A Mushroom Photography Field Trip

Getting down in the dirt.

Last weekend, I joined the Puget Sound Mycological Society (PSMS) for their annual Ben Woo Foray. Like last year’s event, it was held at a camp just northeast of Mount Rainier. But unlike last year, there weren’t many mushrooms to be found. There simply hadn’t been enough rain over the summer.

Chanterelle Mushroom
Here’s a golden chanterelle mushroom coming out of the duff. (They’re white where I find them on the east side of the Cascades.) After photographing this one, I cut it off and put it in my sweatshirt hood to take home. (I didn’t have a basket with me!)

But it wasn’t a complete bust. I managed to get enough chanterelles for a few breakfasts; I’ll finish the last of them this morning. And I’d signed up for the photography session, so that gave me a different purpose on Saturday afternoon.

There were about 20 of us in the group of photographers that set out to find and photograph mushrooms. We started with an extremely basic discussion of photography with topics that included shutter speed, aperture, and depth of field. Paul, the leader, also discussed the usefulness of reflectors to bring light into dark areas under a mushroom. I had one of my reflectors with me, but it was way too big to be useful for this kind of photography. (I know I have a small one somewhere; sure wish I could find it!)

He showed us some really nice and very artistic photos done by a member of the PSMS. If you can imagine framing a photo of a mushroom, these were the kinds of photos you’d frame. I found them inspirational — in other words, they inspired me to create good images.

I also learned about one of the drawbacks to my sturdy Manfroto tripod: the center column makes it impossible to get the tripod head very close to the ground, despite the fact that the legs can be released beyond their normal stopping point. This would make photographing mushrooms with the tripod a bit more challenging, unless I wanted to shoot down at them (which I usually didn’t). Of course, a tripod really is necessary due to the low-light conditions in the shady, wooded areas where mushrooms like to grow.

Then we went out to a predetermined place and hunted about for mushrooms.

As anyone who knows me well might expect, I didn’t stay with the group. In fact, I lost them twice. We didn’t walk very far and although I didn’t have GPS tracking turned on (via GaiaGPS, which I can’t say enough nice things about), I wasn’t in any danger of getting lost in the woods. Having my camera and tripod set up and ready to go really helped me focus (no pun intended) on photography as an activity. Also helpful: wearing the rain pants I’d bought on my way to the foray when I made a stop in Yakima. It was a real pleasure to kneel down on wet earth and not get up with soaking wet knees.

Most of the mushrooms I shot were very tiny and growing slightly above the ground nearby. That made it possible for me to set up the tripod and camera in a hole so I was nearly level with the subject. My goal, in most cases, was to highlight the mushroom(s) by focusing on them and letting the background go out of focus.

Tiny Mushrooms
Some tiny mushrooms along the trail. None of these were more than 2 inches tall. They were growing out of moss and yes, those are fir needles around them.

More Tiny Mushrooms
And more tiny mushrooms. I think I succeeded in getting that one mushroom in decent focus, but the white piece of lichen nearby creates a bad distraction.

For the shoot, I used my “go to” lens, an AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm ƒ3.5-5.6, which was one of the three I had with me. I did not have any fixed focal length lenses with me. This turned out to be the best lens (I had) for the job since I couldn’t get my big tripod anywhere near the mushrooms. In most cases, I had to zoom in to 85mm to get the closeups I wanted. I tried my 70-300 lens to see if I could get even closer shots, but was set up too close to get the mushrooms in focus. The forest isn’t a tripod-friendly place and it seemed silly to set up 10 feet away from mushrooms sometimes only 2 inches tall.

I don’t have a macro lens. This is something I need to remedy one of these days because super close shots would be nice — although I suspect that a really close look at some of the edibles I pick might make me less likely to want to eat them. (Think bugs.)

Anyway, here are a few of my shots from the trip. Are any of them worthy of being framed and hung? I doubt it. But it was good to get out with my camera and a mission again.

Many Mushrooms
Another photographer and I saw these mushrooms at about the same time. She shot them from the left; I shot them straight on. Fortunately, they were growing at the base of a tree and I was able to get down into a hole in front of them. I think I could have done a better job focusing on the big one. And maybe some shade on the scene to avoid the glare? Experimentation is part of the learning process.

Coral Mushroom
This is a coral mushroom — a beautiful specimen larger than a man’s fist — and it is edible. I didn’t find it so I didn’t get to take it home.

Chanterelles
The leader of the group found two small and partially crushed chanterelles right along the roadside. But what he missed is this one and the slightly smaller one behind it. I had to lay prone on the ground with my camera in my hands to get this shot — and it isn’t even very good. Can you see the second mushroom to the right, out of focus? After everyone shot these mushrooms, I cut them off and took them with me.

More Maria 1.0 Photos

A few more very old photos.

Yesterday, I blogged a few things about Girl Scouts, which I was part of when I was a kid. I still have my Girl Scout sash with all of its badges somewhere. I went looking for it yesterday morning, hoping to get a photo of it for the blog post. I couldn’t find it. But I did find a bunch of very old photographs from my teens and college days. I thought I’d share them here.

At Disneyworld

The date on the back of this photo says 1980, but I’m pretty sure it was older than that. That could account for the discoloration. I commonly put off developing film for a very long time. I’m thinking this was from around 1977 or so. My mom had remarried (or was about to?) and we went on a family vacation to Disneyworld in Florida. It was remarkable for two reasons:

  • We stayed at the hotel inside the park. The one the monorail goes through. It was the first time I’d ever stayed in a real hotel.
  • My stepdad bought us passes that gave us unlimited access to all the rides. Back in those days, you had to buy tickets for each ride you wanted to go on. (Ever hear of an E-ticket Ride?) We had access to everything. It was a huge deal.

We had the royal treatment throughout our visit, including dinner at Cinderella’s Castle. That’s where this photo was taken. It shows my sister, brother, and me. When I texted this photo to my brother, he not only confirmed it was when we had dinner in the Castle, but he remembered that he had prime rib. When I asked him how he could possibly remember that, he replied:

Because the meal came with a red candied slice of apple as a garnish. At the time it freaked me out since I never saw something like that before so I have not forgotten it.

Whoa.

At Disneyworld
(L-R) Laura, Norbert, and Maria Langer at Cinderella’s Castle, Disneyworld, circa 1977.

Prom Photo

Prom Picture
Maria Langer and Paul Soehren, prom photo, 1978.

I went to two proms in the same year in high school. One was my senior prom, which was in the winter so photos could make it into the yearbook. The other was my junior prom, which was in the spring. And yes, I was a junior and a senior in the same year — which explains how I managed to graduate high school at age 16.

This is from one of those proms, back in 1978. I was dating the guy across the street, Paul. We were together for quite a while. Unfortunately, he was slightly younger than me and I graduated early so he was two years behind me in school. When I went away to college — well, let’s just say that my outlook on life and relationships changed. But he was a good guy and I suspect he made someone a very good husband. I seem to recall that he became a firefighter. I’ve lost touch with him but that’s okay.

We made a nice looking couple, no?

Siblings

Here’s a shot of my brother and me sitting on my aunt and uncle’s back deck. The other photos in this group show a lot of different family members, including my grandmother, in a wheel chair. I assume it was somebody’s birthday or something, but can’t figure out who. It was obviously in the summer and I don’t know anyone other than me with a summer birthday.

I figure this was around 1980, just based on my hairstyle and the fact that I’m not wearing glasses. I started wearing contacts when I went to college. I remember that top. My brother was about 10 or 11 here.

I didn’t crop this, although I certainly could have. I wanted to save it the way it was shot. It was likely taken by my mother, who couldn’t properly frame a photo if her life depended on it. I have a lot of photos that are framed like this.

Maria and Norb
Maria and Norbert Langer, New Jersey, circa 1980.

Laura

Laura Langer
Laura Langer, circa 1980.

Taken at the same event as the one above, here’s my sister. She’s changed quite a bit since Disneyworld, no?

What amazes me about these last two pictures is how much eye makeup we’re both wearing. Sheesh.

And I can bet you anything that my mother did not take this photo.

College Days

Photographer Maria
A candid shot of me taking a candid photo of someone else on campus. September 18, 1981. Ah, to be that young (and thin) again!

In college, I was a member of the yearbook staff as a photographer and it was a blast. I loved doing candid shots. I’d put a long lens on my Olympus OM-10 camera (hey, you have to start somewhere) and shoot images of people lounging on the grass in the Quad or snacking in a cafeteria or studying in the library.

My friend Jeff Noreman, who was the yearbook editor one year (or more?) took this photo of me while I was likely taking a candid photo of someone else. The only reason I know it was Jeff is that his initials and the actual date of the photo are on back. So I can tell you that this was shot on September 18, 1981. I was a senior at Hofstra University and just 20 years old.

Yearbook Staff
The Nexus staff, circa 1981.

I also found a group photo of the yearbook staff. I suspect Jeff took the photo since he isn’t in the shot, but if he did he must not have been trying very hard — it looks as if my mother framed it for him. The other photo i have of this group is the same pose but horizontal and also cut off. Maybe the camera was on a tripod with a self-timer?

I’m thinking this was shot on a trip to Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey. I have other shots from the same place.

I can name some, but not all, of the people in this shot. Can you see me? I’m in the back on the far right, standing next to a tree. I look very butch in this shot! It probably dates around 1981.

College Graduation

I found two good shots from graduation.

First, you need to understand that I was the first person in my family to go to (and graduate from) college. It was a huge deal. So when I graduated, my entire family came to see the ceremony. That’s what the group photo is all about.

Group Graduation Photo
(L-R) Barbara Langer (my stepmother), Kristine Langer (my half sister), Laura Langer (my sister), Norbert Langer Sr (my father), me, Norbert Langer Jr. (my brother), Madelyn Odendahl (my mother), and Thomas Odendahl (my stepfather).

Graduation Photo
Here’s my college graduation photo. May 1982. I was 20 years old.

Of course, being friends with a lot of photographers, it was easy to get a good photo of me in my cap and gown. This one was taken by my friend Stuart Litel, another yearbook photographer. The only reason I know that is because his sticker is on the back of the photo.

Double Exposure

I’ve shared this next one before but thought I’d share it again because it’s so cool. It’s a double exposure self portrait that I created entirely in my camera on film. In other words, if I could find the negative, it would look just like this.

This is a relatively big deal. This is before the days of Photoshop when whipping up something like this would take a few minutes in front of a computer. The trick, as I recall, was getting my camera to let me take a second shot on top of the first one. I had to mask each side of the image for each shot. If you look closely, you can see a slight blurring on the buildings in the middle; I probably moved the camera a tiny bit when I prepared for the second shot.

The dress is actually a wrap-around long skirt that wore with a belt as a sleeveless dress. I made it myself. I still own it.

Double Exposure
Double the pleasure, double the fun?

If I find any more good Maria 1.0 photos, I’ll be sure to share them here. It’s a nice being able to look back into my distant past and remember the good old days. You can see a few more old photos here.

Some Thoughts on Scouting, Gender Differences, and Equality

Am I the only person who sees this so clearly?

I’m on Twitter a lot — even more lately since I’m trying to rest up to prevent a mild cold from becoming a bad one. One of the accounts I follow is Stephen Colbert. I’m a big fan — which, by the way, is the only reason I subscribe to CBS All Access — and although he doesn’t tweet often, what he has to say is usually right on target. Yesterday, he tweeted about the Boy Scouts of America now allowing girls to join: “How about we drop the whole “boy” and “girl” scouts thing and call them what they are: Kids with knives who know how to set fires.”

He was trying to be funny, of course, but there was a deeper meaning to his tweet. At least I found one. I replied, “I think @boyscouts and @girlscouts should merge as just plain SCOUTS to keep scouting alive and teach the same skills to all.” My suggestion — which I was completely serious about — seemed to be a hit with other Twitter users. At last count, it had 242 “likes,” which is pretty good for one of my tweets. I was almost immediately directed to an organization called Navigators USA, which seems (from its website) to promote the kind of healthy attitude we need in kids. Another Twitter user tweeted “That’s how it is overseas” and someone else immediately agreed.

The conversation took off in all kinds of directions, ranging from cookie sales to corruption to exposés on Boy Scout policies. Some of it was interesting, other tweets were propagandist. I enjoyed reminiscing about cookie sales with another person around my age. But the direction that interested me was the one that seemed to concern a handful of people: the differences between boys and girls. One person tweeted:

What is wrong with having Girl Scouts as well as Boy Scouts? Why don’t boys want to join the Girl Scouts ? What’s wrong with males and females being different? Why do women want to be the same as men? Gender will never go away no matter the century

Wow. Just wow.

In 240 characters — which I have yet to be endowed with — he managed to pinpoint the root of the problem in today’s gender biased world.

He wasn’t the only one with this backwards thinking. Another woman tweeted: “There are boys and there are girls different in many ways, I believe that’s a good thing!!” Then she went on to add, in typical gutsy-because-of-anonimity fashion: “Maria, there’s something really wrong with you!” (And if you haven’t guessed it, yes, she is a #MAGA Trump supporter. Sheesh.)

Still another argued that “Boys need Men (whether gay, straight, whatever) ALL men! Girls need strong women mentors. The rest is all sorted out as we (hopefully) grow.” When I attempted to engage her in a conversation pointing out that gender roles were old fashioned thinking, she finally blurted, “Yes, we’ll all become robots.” Where did that come from? I had enough, said goodbye, and muted her.

I figured this might be a good time to blog more thoroughly about my thoughts on this matter.

Gender Differences

Yes, there are biological differences between boys and girls. I will not argue that. I am a human, I’ve had sex, I’ve seen naked men and women. We are different.

Some people will argue that those biological differences extend to thinking and brain function. I am not qualified to comment on that. I’m not a neuroscientist or a psychologist. I don’t even know enough about those two fields to be able to link to studies that prove one idea or another on this topic. I don’t want to mislead people by sharing information I can’t verify so I won’t.

I’ll just tell you what my 50+ years as a female in America have shown me.

I was one of two girls in my family. My sister is very close in age — only 16 months younger than me. We were raised together almost as if we were twins.

But I became the tomboy. While my sister was playing with her friend’s dolls, I was playing with her friend’s brother’s Hot Wheels. I was doing jumps on my bike, whittling pointy sticks with a pocket knife (and I still have the scar where the damn thing closed on my finger), and reading race car magazines I got from a friend. Sure, I had dolls and yes, I did occasionally play with them — when I was younger. But there were other things that interested me more.

And yes, my mother raised me as a girl. I learned to cook and sew — hell, I made clothes on a sewing machine for my Barbie doll. I learned how to clean house and change diapers — my brother came along when I was eight — and do all the other things a woman was expected (in those days, anyway) to take care of when she got married and started a family. And most of these things have served me well all my life.

(And no, I never identified as a boy or was attracted to women sexually. In all honesty, I found most — but not all — women pretty dull and still do.)

But my mother never taught me to troubleshoot a broken vacuum cleaner or rewire a wall socket. She never explained how to replace the workings of a toilet tank. She never showed me how to change a tire or even how to check a tire to see if a tire’s pressure was low because it had sat too long or if it had an actual leak.

These are all skills I’ve used more than once throughout my life. Skills that are taught to boys but not girls.

Why?

And why is it that boys aren’t taught how to cook or sew or clean house? Well, maybe they are these days, but when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, boys were expected to be in shop class and not home economics.

I doubt they would have let me into shop class. As it was, I was the only girl in drafting class in high school.

Our culture and education system supported gender differences. Boys did and learned these things and girls did and learned these other things. There was little overlap.

And that sets up dependencies. Women depending on men to do specific things for them; men depending on women to do other things for them.

It’s quaint and I’m sure some of the Twitter users I quoted above seem to think it’s “right.” But is it?

Why should either gender be reliant on the other for basic tasks of everyday life? Why should I have to “call a man” to come fix my toilet when I can buy a kit at the hardware store for $15 and do it myself? Why should a man, when his wife goes off on ladies night, have to eat leftovers or take out food when he should be able to cook a meal for himself?

Yes, there are gender differences. But should those differences limit the capabilities of a man or woman?

I say no.

Scouting

I have to admit that I don’t know much about today’s scouting organizations. I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout and even a Cadet for a short time back in the late 60s and early 70s. But I don’t have kids so I don’t have experience with scouting beyond that experience.

I will say this: When I was in the Girl Scouts, they taught a wide range of skills ranging from basic homemaking skills (cooking, sewing, cleaning) to outdoor skills (camping, making fires, cooking outdoors, first aid). As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I learned how to shoot a rifle in Girl Scouts. We learned teamwork and the importance of being prepared for anything. I also sold cookies, door to door, which taught me how to approach strangers and ask them to buy something they didn’t need. (And yes, I know that door-to-door sales by kids is difficult in today’s crazy world, but it’s still possible with supervision.)

My favorite part of Girl Scouts was always the camping trips. Cooking our own meals over hot coals, telling ghost stories, sleeping with a bunch of girls in a platform tent similar to the one I own now, having raccoons run over our feet because someone left a candy bar in their duffle bag. Hiking in the woods, whittling sticks, getting dirty. I loved it all.

And I still cook that aluminum foil chicken and vegetable dinner once in a while when I’m camping with friends.

I suspect Girl Scouts is very different these days. I hope not.

I truly believe that scouting can teach valuable skills to kids. I’m not just talking about the skills I listed above — or those that Stephen Colbert mentioned jokingly in his tweet — I’m talking about social and interpersonal skills. I’m talking about values, like self-reliance and respect for diversity. And perhaps respect for the opposite gender.

And that’s where I was going with my tweet. I don’t see why we need two separate scouting organizations. Why can’t girls and boys play and learn together? Why do we have to stress differences? Why can’t we focus on how we’re the same?

Gender Equality

And all that comes back to what I’ve been saying for years about gender equality:

It’s impossible for women to be treated the same as men if society continues to stress how different they are.

I’m in my third career in a male-dominated field. I’ve had success in all three careers. Could it be, in part, because of the way I think?

I think I’m equal, therefore I am.

On average, I was equal in skills to my male counterparts in every career. Probably better than some and not quite as good as others. But certainly good enough to get the job done in a way that kept me employed and earning a good living.

And has anyone ever heard me whine about equal pay or how hard it is to be a woman?

Maybe it’s the acceptance of society’s “norms” that are keeping women from achieving everything they can?

Maybe it’s the backwards thinking that boys and girls are different so we need to treat them differently from birth. From the toys we offer them to the things we teach them at home, in school, and in organizations like scouting, we are feeding gender inequality.

Maybe it’s time to stop?