…A man well loved
Someone I knew died. I didn’t know him well, but I admired him. Dr. Sam Ristich, locally known as Sam the Mushroom Man, died peacefully in his chair in North Yarmouth Maine this week.
Sam was in love with mushrooms. Boy, he sure could get equally excited when leading a woodland walk spotting a slime mold on a rotting log or a grand majestic tier of polyporus squamosis on a tree. Once, back when I worked in an office, I watched a mushroom grow on the tree on front of my window. It grew, and it grew, and it grew. Finally it was so humungous, my friend called someone who knew Dr. Sam. He came right over. He got so excited about the mushroom I thought he’d jump out of his skin. So then we all got excited too. He was infectious in a good way.
A few years later I became his tenant. I’d see him outside in the winter, shoveling, putting out orange skins for the birds, sprinkling bird seed. The light in his study at night would spill out to the driveway, making yellow patches on the snow. He’d be bent over a microscope examining, learning. At 90 years old his enthusiasm for anything and everything never dimmed. He was entranced by snow, birds, nature, life…he loved it and exhibited it in his actions and through his heart. He was an inspiration.
New England, the US and even the world knew him as Dr. Sam Ristich, foremost authority in the mycological arena of science. The natural world, even. Serving in the US Air Corps in Bermuda Sam discovered a cahow in Bermuda in 1945. This is a bird that thought to have been extinct since 1650. That’s Sam! Goes out for a walk and discovers something that turns the scientific world on its head. The Smithsonian holds in its collections the specimen discovered in 1945 by Samuel Ristich on Coopers Island, Bermuda. There’s a documentary about it now, called “Rare Bird,” just released.
I just knew him as Sam the mushroom man, and sometime landlord. When I moved from his apartment he gave me this mushroom stamp. The message on the back reads in part: “Dear Elizabeth, I hope you find prolonged happiness.”
Dear Sam: I hope you do too.