Ice and Mushrooms

A beautidul northwoods pond in winter. Do you feel serene - or nervous?  What dangers does the beauty of ice hide?  Image from
A beautidul northwoods pond in winter. Do you feel serene – or nervous? What dangers does the beauty of ice hide? Image from
On my way home from work today I passed a little pond. Well, not that little. It’s one of those ponds created by the highway department when they need a lot of soil to create a ramp for the roadway, leaving behind a pit where they took the material from.

Yes, I pass this pond every day to work and back – and usually don’t see anyone around it. Being in a commercial/ industrial area there really wouldn’t be any nearby residents traipsing around. Although I rarely have seen a man, a black lab, and a parked truck there, like 2 times in the last 3 years.

At this time of year (mid December) there’s a good layer of ice on the pond, but not extending all the way to the edges. Actually, there was open water on the majority of this pond just a week ago. So the ice that’s there probably isn’t terribly thick.

But, today I observed a crudely cut hole (about the size of a fridge) in the ice, with a pair of traffic cones next to it – one standing, one knocked down. Maybe I’ve watched one too many movies with horrific scenes of someone getting trapped under the ice, or had fallen through the ice myself in a past life, but the first thing that came to mind was that someone tripped and fell in! Thoughts of some schmuck, chopping on the ice, and having it weaken beneath him hit my mind’s eye.

Traveling at 40 mph past the pond didn’t allow much critical observation. Were there recent footprints out there? Was there an unattended dog running nearby? Was there anybody from the business next door peering over toward the pond also? Maybe a siren coming in the distance?

Then I noticed there was no truck. No vehicle was parked in the small dirt road leading to the pond. If there was no vehicle then whoever chopped the hole must have made it out – and driven away. Whew! A sense of relief came over me.

I still wondered, however, about the hole. Who in their right mind would go out on such thin ice?

One of my absolutes that I preach to my son (now eleven) is never ever ever never ever never EVER walk out on ice. No if’s, no and’s, no but’s. The consequences of making the wrong judgement in ice’s ability to hold you is pretty severe. Even if you’re so lucky that someone actually sees you go under your time to be rescued is very short. Cold water is extremely effective in shutting body functions down.

Several years ago I had the experience of being called to the ER in the hospital I was working in (I was a lab med tech for many years) to a case of a possible drowning. The fire department and EMT’s fished this middle aged man from the local river in mid winter. Someone saw him jump into the river, and immediately dialed EMS. Paramedics worked on him all the way from the river to the ER. Not long after arrival the doctors called it. Sure, he didn’t fall through the ice, but he was in freezing water far too long – too long to be saved. Maybe it’s this incident that has emblazoned on my psyche the dangers of winter waters.

red-mushroomsSo, where do mushrooms fit in? I pondered what other things in life I’ve developed absolutes about. Absolute no’s mostly. I think it’s harder to grow into absolute yes’s in life – it’s much easier to put the brakes on when you’re unsure about something. Thus, easier to come up with a “no”.

The other absolute “no” platitude that sprang to mind was the commandment never ever ever never ever NEVER eat wild mushrooms. Too many stories about the toxic alkaloids doing their work to destroy a body from the inside out makes my skin crawl. There are also strong memories of my high school biology teacher (some 30 years ago now) to never eat – not even sample – wild mushrooms.

The consequence of eating the wrong one is devastating. Death from mushroom poisoning is a tortuous death I don’t want to fool with. Sure, there are mushroom and fungi experts out there that spent years studying and identifying these organisms in the wild. Their surety is beyond compare. If give a dish to eat with mushrooms they deem safe I would probably give it a token try. Otherwise, no thanks.

So, what things in your life are absolutely certain about? What edicts on living are unwaivering for you? Come on, we all have ’em. It’s easier to say “no” than “yes”.

Additional Resources

Minnesota DNR ice safety advisory (They know ice in Minnesota, as we do in Wisconsin)

University of Connecticut Health Center on mushrooms

A detailed look at America’s poisonous mushrooms:

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