Telluride Mushroom Fest: Nicholas Money, Fact & Fiction

The 37th annual Telluride Mushroom Festival takes place Thursday, August 17 – Sunday, August 20. The full scheduled is here. Migrate around the site to find info on presenters, venues, book-signings, etc. Or filter by topic or venue. Festival overview in detail here. Tickets/passes here.

Please scroll down to listen to a podcast featuring keynote speaker Nicholas (Nik) P. Money.

At the upcoming Telluride Mushroom Festival, our money is on, well, on Money – Nicholas P. Money to be precise – to surprise and amuse, while deeply educating his rapt audience about the fantastic kingdom of microorganism known as fungi. A British gentleman of letters, prolific author and educator, Money is also an advocate for the environment.

“… I think the most important thing… is to just increase one’s recognition of the sensitivity of the relationships between biological diversity, and the way that the planet works in a fashion that supports the human condition,” he said in a recent interview.

“If we’re cutting down forests or if we’re doing things that might be damaging fungal populations, this doesn’t just affect the fungi, it ultimately effects homo sapiens as well,” Money added in that interview in the Huffington Post.

Fungi are everywhere we want to be, like in our backyard (writ large in the Telluride region), but also a few places we don’t want them to be: the back of out throats, the sad, but true case of one man whose immune system was heading south; also ceilings, basements and bathrooms.

“Every breath that we take — from first gasp to last breath — we’re inhaling fungal spores. They’re always available, they’re always in the air, and they’re always trying to exploit the opportunities to grow and reproduce,” Money once explained to Terry Gross of NPR fame.

In his latest non-fiction work, Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History, Nik Money goes on to state:

“Mushrooms are fungal sex organs and the most wondrous inventions of the last billion years of evolutionary history on earth… Mushrooms are loved, despised, feared, and misunderstood; they occupy a special place in human consciousness, embedded in childhood through fairy tales, movies, and video games…,” adding “Fungi are everywhere and will outlive us by an eternity.”

What’s more, mushrooms could be the key to the meaning of life.

And “The Meaning of Life in Ten Mushrooms” just happens to be the subject of Nik Money’s keynote Friday night, 7:30 p.m., at the Sheridan Opera House.

Money explains in an event teaser:

“Despite their abundant peculiarities, mushrooms behave according to the same rules that govern human existence. This means that a study of the fungi can help us understand how we work and why we do so. The claim that mycological inquiry can reveal why we exist may be surprising for people who think that science does not answer the why things happen sort of questions. This is illogical, however, given widespread confidence in the claim that we know why mushrooms exist. In this presentation, Nicholas shares a combination of mycological and philosophical stories to reveal what ten beautiful mushrooms can tell us about our own being. Life will never seem the same.”

But wait, there’s more on the Money.

On Thursday, August 18, 3 p.m., Nik Money’s talk focuses on his latest fiction work, The Mycologist: The Diary of Bartholomew Leach, Professor of Natural Philosophy, published this year. The talk is entitled “There is a Bustle in the Hedgerow.”

“Bartholomew Leach was a professor at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio before the Civil War. He formulated his theory of Creation by Natural Perfection in the late 1850s, but discovered, to his great disappointment, that he had been trumped by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. In southwestern Ohio, Leach became known for his rejection of biblical teachings on creation and was vilified by many in his community. History is kinder to his memory. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, it is clear that Professor Leach was viewed as a living saint by the escaped slaves whose passages he lubricated with such selfless heroism.”

Measured by curiosity and their ultimate frustration – spelled “Charles Darwin” – the character of Leach sounds vaguely like a male version of Alma Whittaker, the heroine of Elisabeth Gilbert’s lesser known, but arguably more enthralling second novel. Gilbert’s sensuous The Signature of All Things tells the story of an insatiably curious daughter of a botanical baron who uses the miniature world of moss to develop a new taxonomy that becomes a theory encompassing all living things, parallel to that of the ubiquitous Darwin.

From The Mycologist:

“Sunday May 1st, 1859

It is so rare to take pause and breathe slowly enough to contemplate the experience of being alive. This is a terrible shame, given the sheer improbability of existence when measured against the infinite length of one’s dark bloodless future. Most moments of any lifetime are added to our libraries of blurred remembrances as soon as they are done, but there are a few that persist as if they never stopped happening. There was an evening from my childhood, for example, when I stood alone, confused but excited by the sight of boxing hares in a Chiltern meadow. They ran wildly, stopping every so often and raising themselves on their back legs to thump one another a few times, then tearing off again. The pointed ears of spectators stuck above the waving grass culms and the sun set to the cheerless accompaniment of a fox crying in the beech hanger above the meadow. I was mesmerized, breathless. Twenty years later, I left my birthplace, was married at sea, saw the birth of my daughter, and was cuckolded in Boston. Big events, yet my memories of New England are all so vague. Meanwhile, the mad March hares have boxed on in my skull and will continue to do so, I think, until time turns my brain into nothing more sensible than a boiled potato.”

In Money’s Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History, he introduces mushroom mythology and science, the history of our interactions with these fungi, and the ways that humans use mushrooms as food, medicines, and recreational drugs. The natural history is supplemented with profiles of the mycologists who advanced the study of the fungi. As paragons of eccentricity, these individuals are peerless.

“As great of a speaker as the man is, his talk is equaled by his writing: most of my favorite books on mycological topics were written by Nik Money, notably Mr Bloomfield’s Orchard and The Triumph of the Fungi. Nik has taken to mycological fiction now too and has a new book out. His second presentation will be based on that work,” said Britt Bunyard, director, Telluride Mushroom Festival, also publisher and editor-in-chief of FUNGI Magazine.

On Saturday, August 19, 8:30 – 9:30 p.m., in the SHOW bar at the Sheridan Opera House, Nik Money is os doing a book-signing side by side with popular returning presenter, Giuliana Furci.

To find out more about Money, the Mycologist, listen to his podcast:

More about Nik Money:

Born 1962, Oxford, England, Nik Money’s adoptive parents were Roy and Judy, Oxfordshire schoolteachers. His adopted sister Sarah is now an expert in bird conservation and lives on Orkney in Scotland. Money claims to have had an idyllic childhood, in many ways, marred only by severe asthma, which stimulated lifelong thanatophobia:

“I am a big fan of death, bring it on – but I am just too busy right now.”

Educated at Bristol University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 1983 – “premier learning experience of my life” –  Money went on to earn PhD in 1986 at Exeter University. He then moved to the United States in 1986, did a postdoc at Yale, and fell deeply in love with the USA during weekend trips to Manhattan on the train.

Money moved to Colorado in 1988, conducted more research on fungi and molds, met his wife, Diana Davis and married on beach in Kona, Hawaii in 1995, the same year he settled in Oxford, Ohio where he has remained for 22 years and counting.

Since 2010, Nik Money has worked as Director of the Western Program at Miami University, an individualized studies degree for undergraduates, who determine many features of their plan of study and write an undergraduate thesis on a topic of their choosing. In that capacity, Money has taught unconventional courses on science and religion, making meaning of life, and other non-traditional topics.

Over the years, Money also authored a number of popular science books that celebrate the diversity of the microbial world, including Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard (2002) and The Amoeba in the Room (2014). His latest work, The Mycologist, is fiction, though also partly autobiographical.

Money’s long list of his research accomplishments includes:

-Solved mechanism of spore release in aquatic fungi that had been an enigma since the nineteenth century (doctoral dissertation, 1986)

-Developed techniques for measuring the hydrostatic pressure of microscopic filamentous cells that advanced the study of fungal growth (1990s)

-Derived fresh concept of tip growth and elucidated the biomechanics of solid tissue invasion by pathogenic fungi (1990-2000)

-Conducted experiments using ultra-high-speed video microscopy that increased our understanding of spore dispersal (2005-2010)

-Published contrarian and highly influential essays (2005-2016) on mushroom harvesting (its lack of sustainability), fungal taxonomy (its scientific and philosophical shortcomings), and the medicinal properties of mushrooms (their absence)

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.

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