Culture & Conversation

Transcending metaphor

Postcard Guided Mushroom Walk

This is the most literal season. Though we can call it Autumn, we know it as Fall or Fall-time. Daily there are displays of descent as trees bare themselves and let go of their colour. Leaves are left, summer is leaving. And then, there is e.e. cummings to make us feel a bit more down:



There are countless ways to interpret the letters, parentheses, space, shapes, concatenations, separations, evocations, and semantics of this work, and each one speaks a cold truth that we aren’t quite ready for: we are alone. Did Cummings recognize the parallel between a leaf and loneliness, or did he intend to sample and re-form Basho’s haiku from 1692?

Won’t you come and see loneliness? Just one leaf from the kiri tree.

Yes, in Fall, it is easy to sink into despair. But, isn’t Basho inviting us to witness the tree, alongside him? Now there are two. Isn’t Cummings sitting with his observations? Again, there are two. With the fewest of words, an object arises and thus a subject. The duality bootstraps us out of self-pity and selfishness. In merely expressing loneliness, it is no more. In expressing it, maybe it even raises our consciousness and dilates our perception.

The work of Alexis Williams is Fall-time work. While she uses many different materials, they are of the same ilk: items found on the ground — items fallen on the ground, first, and then found. Williams “stresses the importance of observation, contemplation and adventure in life and community. Collection and recomposition are fundamental aspects of her process.” Like Basho’s invitation, and Cummings’ observation (and possible recomposition of Basho), Williams draws upon this simple tension between existentialism and absurdism. She lets something fall and then makes something of it.

Her found materials include mushrooms and their spore, moth carcasses, bones, lichen, and discarded phone books. In her lab, she also encourages growth of that which breaks down and decomposes: rust, salt-crystals, fungal contaminations. These materials are autumnal, though they aren’t found. With them, she makes prints and videos, sculpture and prose, dyes and inks, in pursuit of her Masters degree in Fine Arts at Concordia University.

(An early project was using the sun to mark her body, which is decidedly summery. The series is “Actinic keratosis” and the description is: Actinic keratosis is a skin lesion caused by sun damage that leads to skin cancer.)

Her next big project is an installation. There will be a guided meditation on biology in a dark room, and then a bioluminescent surprise when the meditation is over and viewers’ eyes open. The piece is part of a series of projects about the inaccuracies of our perception, Williams says.

Before this, and before the last leaf has fluttered to the ground, Williams will be leading a Guided Mushroom Walk through the Climax Forest at Morgan Arboretum as part of the SensoriuM’s Tour Series. “Participants will be invited to step off the path where the group will experience making decisions with intuition and their senses, using an arsenal of art and science tools to see, smell and taste the forest from new perspectives.” Basho and Cummings beckoned the reader to see the words and be two (and thus not alone). Williams invites the public to observe the leaves falling, and maybe, if we are quiet, their slow re-composition into soil that will nourish another tree, with the help of mushrooms.

Join Alexis Williams for a Guided Mushroom Walk on Saturday, October 26 at 2 pm at Morgan Arboretum.

Carpooling may be available. There is also an AMT train that brings you within 3.7 km of the arboretum. The walk is free but entrance to the arboretum is $6 for adults and $4 for students. Please RSVP to to get directions and to find out what to bring.

Leah Garfield-Wright is really into resource and material management, for beauty’s sake. Her primary occupations are food distribution, eliminating the concept of waste, sharing cultures (both human and microbial), and being inspired by the wonders beneath our feet. You can find her tweeting at:

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