By Walter Jarosh
Throwback with TODAY
May 1995 (3rd issue) pages 56-57
While on a hike with a group of enthusiastic students, Walter Jarosh, Forester and Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds with the Upper St. Clair Public Works Department, encountered a cluster of mushrooms growing along a log. The mushrooms were in exquisite form. The rounded, bright orange mushroom caps had droplets of dew shimmering in a beam of filtered light that had penetrated the dense forest canopy. The casual hiker may have bypassed these lowly mushrooms, nestled in the leaves next to the rotten log, but not this group of budding naturalists.
Finding the mushrooms was Mr. Jarosh's key to unlocking the minds of his fellow hikers and taking them on a trip far beyond the woods where they knelt looking at the mushrooms. He talked about the fungi as a group of plants. Without chlorophyll they are unable to manufacture their own food and they are unable to reuse or recycle plant material produced by other green plants. The green plants found in the woods, meadows and even the ocean combine energy from the sun with carbon dioxide and water to produce sugar and oxygen. Photosynthesis is the major energy storing process of life in which energy is stored as chemical energy in organic compounds. Green leaves are the food factories.
Mushrooms are the fruit of the fungi, but the miles of white threads of mycelium in the soil and leaf litter are the bulk of the fungi. The young naturalists pulled apart the leaves and examined the white strands. In nature, things are recycled or reused. The forest floor is not littered with deep piles of logs, twigs, or leaves, but with harder portions of the trees in various stages of decay. The youngsters talked of decay and the vast array of insects, worms, fungi and green plants that aid in the process as they continued to examine the rotting log and leaf litter Since the children are involved in recycling at home, they easily grasp the concept.
A mushroom cap was delicately opened to reveal the gills where the spores form. The children talked about spores, molds and allergies. They learned that many spring allergies are caused by pollen from trees. Trees that do not have large colored flowers are pollinated by wind. The students learned that the spring pollen from these trees can blow to their back yards and make them sneeze.
As a tall straight pine swayed in the wind, Mr. Jarosh asked "what would be a good use for this tree?" Ideas erupted and flowed from the group - log house, lumber, pencils, tables of a mast on a sailing ship.
Suddenly, Mr. Jarosh transported the students through time to the deck of the Mayflower as the colonists sail for the New World. They discussed the trip and the landing at a place called Plymouth Rock. As they sat among the trees, they gained a better understanding of the forest that greeted the colonists. The children responded that the deer and turkey they have seen would make a good dinner for the early settlers. They talked about the many other foods provided bu the trees, like apples and walnuts. They were cautioned not to eat mushrooms they find in the woods. Mr. Jarosh asks for a show of hands from those in the group who would like to stay in the woods for the winter. No one raises his or her hands. They decided that it would be very cold and that they would be very hungry. They reflected on the colonists and early explorers and the difficult times they experienced. The group talked about the challenges faced by the explorers in the past and today's explorers. A few would-be astronauts were in the group. They discussed the possibility of finding plants on the moon or on Mars. Many other future career options surfaced relating to their experience in the woods.
During a short nature hike in Upper St. Clair, the mushrooms growing along the trail have been used as a passport to travel the universe. May of nature's wonders await those who seek them out.
As the second grade group filed down the trail, a little girl yelled, "Mr. Jarosh, look at this pretty green caterpiller!" He responded. "Did you know that..."