Have you ever taken a hike in the woods, strolled through a prairie, or scaled a rocky hillside? Without a doubt you encountered at least one mushroom species. Did you ask, “I wonder if that mushroom is edible?” After picking the mushroom and examining it you probably remembered not to scratch your eye, cover your mouth when coughing, or eat your picnic lunch before washing your hands—just in case. If you would have been on this outing with Damian Pieper you would not have had to question the safety of the mushroom, as Damian is a mycologist (i.e., the branch of biology concerned with the study of fungi). Furthermore, your hike, stroll, or scale would have been called a “foray.”
Damian’s interest in mushrooms began as a five-year-old growing up on the 120-acre family farm in Mt. Hamill, Iowa. It all started during an especially wet year in 1946 which was very hospitable to mushroom growth. He claims, “Mushrooms were my favorite toys as a child.” Over the years Damian has eaten over a hundred varieties of native mushrooms, and in his many years of experience, not one person he knows has experienced mushroom poisoning.
Damian arrived in Iowa City in 1961 to attend the University of Iowa. In 1967 he bought his home with an acre of land and immediately went to work creating an edible landscape out of what he called “a mud pit except for a few wild plum trees.” Don’t think he was solely dedicated to urban agriculture, as Damian’s life has taken him to many places and provided him with many experiences. Traveling the continental United States has taken him to every state except Alaska, Hawaii, and South Carolina. Many of his trips turned into extended stays: a month each in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, four months in Oklahoma City, three months in the San Francisco bay area, a month in San Antonio, and this is only a partial list. Favorite sites include Niagara Falls (three visits) and two visits to Yellowstone National Park. He has been as far North as Quebec, Canada, and as far South as Mexico City. Europe? For sure: Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, and Italy. Accommodations include stays with friends and relatives, but his favorite resting spot is “sleeping with the sound of the surf on a beach, beside a tree-nest of singing screech owls, sleeping anywhere outdoors lulled by a symphony of the songs of tree frogs, crickets, and other creatures of the night.”
Music is an important aspect of Damian’s life. He sings baritone/bass with the Fireside Choir and enjoys the broad range of compositions and musical styles that provide challenges. Benefits include learning from choir directors that “coach,” and working with fine accompanists like Dr. Jonathan Tauscheck. The continuity of the choir make-up is an additional benefit, as fellow singers have become treasured friends. Damian is no stranger to the keyboard and has on numerous occasions played before choir rehearsal starts. In 1980 he sang leads in three productions of the Iowa City Community Theater: “Oklahoma,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Beauty and the Beast”—for a total of 75 performances!
When asked about his favorite music he said, “I am especially fond of ragtime but like all kinds of music with the exception of Bebop. Can’t stand the stuff!” This Renaissance man finds pleasure in taking courses at the Senior Center, collects old sheet music, stained glass windows, and reed organs. For as long as he can remember he has been a seeker of truth.
Damian is available and willing to lead field trips or forays. Iowa’s famous morel season is an option, or any other time of the year is possible. After a personal jaunt with Damian to dig Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants, I can guarantee no plant or fungi will go unnamed. Contact him at email@example.com.
—Submitted by Your Music Director, Gloria Corbin