Meg Madden's magnificent mushrooms
When the pandemic locked it all down last March, Meg Madden and her almost 10-year-old daughter, Daisy, started going out into Battell Woods behind their house in Middlebury.
“We got to see the entire forest wake up, species by species,” said Madden, an artist and photographer who recently joined the Independent as a part-time advertising administrator. “I was out there every day.”
What did Madden find?
“I started taking pictures and putting them on Instagram last summer and all of a sudden started getting a lot of interest,” she said, adding that by December she had about 1,000 followers and is now — just four months later — on her way to 10,000 followers. @megmaddendesign if you’re interested in following along too.
“There’s a real subculture of Instagramers who are mycologists, photographers and hobbyists who are really interested, helpful and supportive,” explained Madden, who’s life-long interest in the natural sciences led her to work as a mosquito biologist for years, too. “I’ve made friends all over the world now… I try to be really good about responding to people’s comments. I set aside time each day to post and respond intentionally.”
Yes, Madden has been approached by accounts interested in having her promote things for them — a kind of mushroom influencer — but she said no. “I’ve decided not to do that. I want to keep my Instagram more pure.”
Madden uses a macro lens on her iPhone 11 for all her photos. You can find her bending over logs, scratching through leaf litter, lying down on the ground — what she calls “mushroom yoga” — as she captures the majesty of mycelium growing in our Vermont woods.
“At first I was terrified to even touch the mushrooms,” she explained. “I wasn’t trying to identify them or learn about them at that point. You can’t tell with a lot of these mushrooms what it is by just looking at the top.”
As time when on, Madden’s curiosity took over.
“I’m such a nerd,” she said. “It’s not like I can go out, find mushrooms and not know everything about them… I can’t believe the amount of diversity you can find here. People think brown and white when they think about mushrooms, but I’ve seen mushrooms in every color in our woods.”
Madden has an iNaturalist account (myco_mama_vt) — where community scientists “explore and share observations from the natural world.” She also co-runs the Facebook group Green Mountain Mushroom Club with Reggie Serafin, who’s an amateur mycologist from the Rutland area.
“We hope to do some walks over the course of the summer and fall,” Madden said, hinting at the possibility of future movie screenings and maybe even a mushroom festival.
“Part of our mission with the club is to connect folks with nature in a meaningful way. If people have an increased awareness of their surroundings, then they’re more likely to be respectful and take care of their environment,” said Madden pointing to their hash tag #livelearnloveprotect.
“Mushrooms are like the glue that hold the world together,” she continued. “People are realizing more and more how important the fungal community is.”
This spring Madden was recognized by a Canadian medicinal mushroom company for her contributions as a woman in mycology. She was also recognized by the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes division of the National Forest Service for her contributions in documenting mycological diversity during a yearlong local bioblitz.
“I feel like the mushrooms are leading me down this amazing path,” she said as though listening to the mushrooms speak to her. “Come on Meg,” they say. “I can’t say no to the mushrooms. They know what they’re doing.”