Dissatisfied with the surface observation (“they’re like parachutes,” “first cousins to the umbrella,” “dwarf children of nuclear explosions”), the experienced observer pops off the cap and, with his spectacles, carefully examines the under-portion of the mushroom crown. Although there are many varieties (ranging from the psychotropic psilocybin mushrooms that sprout after rain from cow dung near Palenque, to the delectable bottled version at Safeway), under each crown we can find the likeness of a 35mm slide carrousel — a sort of supple file cabinet, a community of papers bound in fungus, the collected manuscripts of unknown scholars, hermit poets, classics preserved in these ancient gills, in files with the breath of these cavefish. The crown portion of mushrooms, we find, are storehouses of knowledge, like rubber computers, and the clever botanist, after discovering these esoteric texts, may process them to be eaten, and digested, so that the knowledge be absorbed and transformed into wisdom, while the by-product data is fully decomposed, and excreted, in order to provide a more fertile earth, another fruitful harvest of knowledge. There are a myriad of methods in which the mushrooms may be prepared — some successful in the preservation of knowledge, while others we find more pleasing to the palate. Let us begin with the latter.

Knead together two tablespoons butter* and two tablespoons flour and stir gently over a low flame until brown. At the same time, carefully separate the caps from the stems and wash the caps thoroughly in lukewarm water (good-bye, knowledge!). Halve the caps crosswise, and in a shallow mixing bowl add to them one half cup Chateau Henri Pale Dry Sherry. Allow to sit overnight. The following morning reknead the butter/flour combination (which hopefully you’ve refrigerated), and add to it one quarter cup hearty beef or gizzard stock. Simmer for ten minutes, then add three well beaten egg yolks, one at a time, and stir in ½ generous teaspoon finely chopped tarragon, ½ cup sour cream (dieters may prefer yogurt), and salt and pepper to taste. Skim off all scum as it rises to the surface. Cover, let simmer very gently — just smile for a few minutes while the sauce thickens. Good. Add the mushroom caps (undoubtedly inebriated by this time) and stir gently, simmering so that flavors mingle. Just prior to serving (on freshly made wheat toast), add one generous teaspoon meat glaze of hearty meat extract, and a few drops lemon juice. The gastronomist will find Mushrooms a la Don Gasper Poulette au Sherry dolefully delicious — the flavor enough to con his lingus into fantasy, onto higher planes of existence.

But the philosopher looks onward. Slow is the road to mastery, to Sufi-hood, to plucking petals from that inner blossom, so to speak. Of what use is knowledge encased in heat, imprisoned in flavor, with inebriates wild in its veins? No use. Abandoning our mundane and bulimiatic desires, let us turn to the digestion of knowledge, to the extraction of fact from the heart of the mushroom, in its fullest and purest state.

Take the Campeche line out of Mexico or Veracruz (second class accommodations are half the price with little difference in comfort) and disembark with your perspiration at the Palenque station, named after the nearby breath-taking ruins. Here we find a mushroom with particular inner color, filled with the age old insanity of the Mayans, wisdom stored as knowledge in the mushroom’s files, as a tree stores its glucose in fruit. We must wait for rain, for the legendary pitter-patter that slides off the hulays, that pools on the leaves of banana trees. When it arrives, we go — shovels in hand, naked save our breach clouts and Nivea noses, combing the grazelands in search of cow pies, not hardened, but the recent versions that often we accidentally sink a toe in, the kind that steam after rain. Each lover of knowledge must, in privacy, discover his own pile, a pie to himself, so to speak, around which he will draw a circle with his finger, periodically leaving spaces like tunnels through the circumference, through which inquisitive ants may pass. There, beside the circle, the philosopher must wait, until the rain ceases and the sagely mushrooms (unlike their look-alike: umbrellas) peek out their bulbous heads. At the first sight of a cap, as though the first star of night, the digger/philosopher must man his shovel and there, below the evening or morning or indifferent sky, begin digging a hole in the likeness of a grave, beside the dungpile decked with protruding mushrooms, and must lie mudcaked in the same, supine like a dead man, looking upward.

Because knowledge has no face, nor breasts, the philosopher must approach it tip-toeing from behind, as though approaching a Greek woman, or shooting someone in the back, for their own good. Thus the mushroom must be approached through its rear door, through the base of the erectile stem. Although somewhat penis-like, and thus handled squeemishly by some, the stem serves as a pedestal of support, a body, a spine that juggles a brain. Those philosophers who are Priapian fanatics as well are requested to keep in mind the purpose of their mission, lest the mushroom crown suddenly pinken, and harden, and the knowledge flee in periodical leaps, disguised in a coat of lotion. Where were we. While lying in your grave-hole, with the dung/pile mushrooms immediately to your right (in line with the shoulders), begin digging in a tunnel-like fashion over, and up, toward the earth directly beneath the pile, the foundation of the learned mushroom. As your fingers break the surface of the earth (which will be obvious due to changes in texture, temperature, and consistency), carefully work your hand through the dung, in a swimming motion with the fingers, until you discover the base at the bottom of the stem, the floor beneath the elevator of a library. The base may be opened with the fingernail, carefully picking and plucking until the hollow shaft-like interior of the stem is revealed (clams open when dead; stems close). Stiffen the index finger or, if it is too fat, push the pinkie up the shaft with considerable speed, but precision and care, applying a dull, thumping blow to the centerly-most pinpoint of the unexpectant cap and, with a slight wrist-action twist, aiding it to not only pop up, but to fall in the general direction of your grave, where your wide-open mouth should be waiting. The odds of catching the knowledge-packed mushroom can be greatly enhanced by a flexible neck, and a tongue well trained and fully protruded, to insure quick introduction to the mouth. Once the mushroom is sealed within the lips, safe on the beefy slab of the tongue, the philosopher must slowly bury his chest, and, while the eyes are closed in deep concentration, the crown may be swallowed, like a host, without chewing.

*Dieters and cholesterol counters may prefer to substitute poly-unsaturated margarine.