Watch a Hand-Drawn Animation of Neil Gaiman’s Poem “The Mushroom Hunters,” Narrated by Amanda Palmer

The arrival of a new­born son has inspired no few poets to com­pose works pre­serv­ing the occa­sion. When Neil Gaiman wrote such a poem, he used its words to pay trib­ute to not just the cre­ation of new life but to the sci­en­tif­ic method as well. “Sci­ence, as you know, my lit­tle one, is the study / of the nature and behav­ior of the uni­verse,” begins Gaiman’s “The Mush­room Hunters.” An impor­tant thing for a child to know, cer­tain­ly, but Gaiman does­n’t hes­i­tate to get into even more detail: “It’s based on obser­va­tion, on exper­i­ment, and mea­sure­ment / and the for­mu­la­tion of laws to describe the facts revealed.” Go slight­ly over the head of a new­born as all this may, any par­ent of an old­er but still young child knows what ques­tion nat­u­ral­ly comes next: “Why?”

As if in antic­i­pa­tion of that inevitable expres­sion of curios­i­ty, Gaiman harks back to “the old times,” when “men came already fit­ted with brains / designed to fol­low flesh-beasts at a run,” and with any luck to come back with a slain ante­lope for din­ner. The women, “who did not need to run down prey / had brains that spot­ted land­marks and made paths between them,” tak­ing spe­cial note of the spots where they could find mush­rooms. It was these mush­room hunters who used “the first tool of all,” a sling to hold the baby but also to “put the berries and the mush­rooms in / the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers. / Then a flint pes­tle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.” But how to know which of the mush­rooms — to say noth­ing of the berries, roots, and leaves — will kill you, which will “show you gods,” and which will “feed the hunger in our bel­lies?”

“Observe every­thing.” That’s what Gaiman’s poem rec­om­mends, and what it memo­ri­al­izes these mush­room hunters for hav­ing done: observ­ing the con­di­tions under which mush­rooms aren’t dead­ly to eat, observ­ing child­birth to “dis­cov­er how to bring babies safe­ly into the world,” observ­ing every­thing around them in order to cre­ate “the tools we make to build our lives / our clothes, our food, our path home…” In Gaiman’s poet­ic view, the obser­va­tions and for­mu­la­tions made by these ear­ly mush­room-hunt­ing women to serve only the imper­a­tive of sur­vival lead straight (if over a long dis­tance), to the mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic enter­prise, with its con­tin­ued gath­er­ing of facts, as well as its con­stant pro­pos­al and revi­sion of laws to describe the pat­terns in those facts.

You can see “The Mush­room Hunters” brought to life in the video above, a hand-drawn ani­ma­tion by Cre­ative Con­nec­tion scored by the com­pos­er Jherek Bischoff (pre­vi­ous­ly heard in the David Bowie trib­ute Strung Out in Heav­en). You can read the poem at Brain Pick­ings, whose cre­ator Maria Popo­va hosts “The Uni­verse in Verse,” an annu­al “char­i­ta­ble cel­e­bra­tion of sci­ence through poet­ry” where “The Mush­room Hunters” made its debut in 2017. There it was read aloud by the musi­cian Aman­da Palmer, Gaiman’s wife and the moth­er of the afore­men­tioned son, and so it is in this more recent ani­mat­ed video. Young Ash will sure­ly grow up faced with few obsta­cles to the appre­ci­a­tion of sci­ence, and even less so to the kind of imag­i­na­tion that sci­ence requires. As for all the oth­er chil­dren in the world — well, it cer­tain­ly would­n’t hurt to show them the mush­room hunters at work.

This read­ing will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

via Brain Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Neil Gaiman & Aman­da Palmer’s Haunt­ing, Ani­mat­ed Take on Leonard Cohen’s “Democ­ra­cy”

Hear Strung Out in Heav­en, a Gor­geous Trib­ute to David Bowie by Aman­da Palmer & Jherek Bischoff’s, Made with Help from Neil Gaiman

Aman­da Palmer Ani­mates & Nar­rates Hus­band Neil Gaiman’s Uncon­scious Mus­ings

Watch Love­birds Aman­da Palmer and Neil Gaiman Sing “Makin’ Whoopee!” Live

Neil Gaiman’s Dark Christ­mas Poem Ani­mat­ed

Dis­cov­er Emi­ly Dickinson’s Herbar­i­um: A Beau­ti­ful Dig­i­tal Edi­tion of the Poet’s Col­lec­tion of Pressed Plants & Flow­ers Is Now Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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