Who’s Behind This, And Where Did It Come From?

Who’s Behind This, And Where Did It Come From?

Hello there! My name is Scott Pavelle, an attorney in Pittsburgh, PA. This link goes to my business website where you can learn more about both my legal practice, my work as a professional storyteller, and my first-ever novel Charlemagne and the Admiral of Spain. And yes, I’m also the guy who does the draft-season Big Board posts for the biggest Steelers blog in the country. (Here’s a 2015 sample of that).

As a field mycologist I am a decided amateur. So how did someone with no particular qualifications or expertise come to create this massive site that purports to be a resource, however partial, on every bolete in North America? Simple – I built my house on the shoulders of actual giants.

Back in 2000 three genuine, professional, and fully-qualified mycologists wrote a colossal tome called North American Boletes. Their names are Alan Bessette, Arleen Bessette, and Bill Roody. It’s an essential resource for anyone with an interest in boletes and I’ll call you an outright fool to your face if you try to learn this field without first digesting every single word of that book. The only problem is that it’s hard to use because the key in front is hard to follow.

Now I need to emphasize something – the dichotomous key in North American Boletes may actually be the best of its kind ever written. I’m not in a position to judge that, but I can tell you that I’ve tried to do smaller ones for personal projects and they are an astonishing pain in the you-know-what. Give it a try if you have any doubts. It’s an enlightening and educational effort. The flaws in that key exist because they are inherent in every dichotomous key. To wit: you have to match your thought process up to the creator’s; you have to match your senses up to the creator’s; you have to follow the order set by the key, and will get completely stymied if a required feature isn’t there; and the key can’t really account for outlier specimens that don’t fit the typical profile. (For example, check out this photo of Baorangia bicolor. The mushroom was identified by Dave Wasilewski, one of the best field experts in the country, but I’d give you about a 0% chance of coming to that same ID if you had to rely on a dichotomous key alone).

Back to the story.

Like many (even most) of the eager young mushroom hunters in the country, I rapidly got frustrated in my attempts to identify particular boletes. And then doubly and triply frustrated when I realized how great they are for eating! There had to be a way…

I may not be the best field mycologist you’re going to find, but I flatter myself that there aren’t a lot of people out there who are better at gathering, processing, organizing, and presenting a set of complicated facts. That’s what lawyers do when you come right down to it. And I’d already applied those skills to create something unique and valuable for the members of Steelers Nation. Why couldn’t I do the same for boletes? The data was right there in the book, and could be supplemented with other field guides…

The past-President of my local mushrooming group, the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, is a fine gentleman named Dick Dougall. Dick was just as frustrated by boletes as me. He’d even gone to the effort of collecting a list of every bolete the Club had ever recorded from any of its walks or forays in the past 20+ years. I took that list and decided to break it down into I.D.-useful characteristics (“morphological features” in mushroomese) in order to clarify the patterns. That led to creating a series of tables based on each of those features – not too hard to do because the list had just about 81 names and therefore fit neatly on a 9×9 grid.

At that point I had a brainstorm. What if I printed out each of those grids on transparencies? I could pick the feature I saw and eliminate everything that couldn’t be a match! This is a much bigger hassle than it may sound like, I assure you, but in 2014 I got it done with some 25 separate transparencies. I began to show it around and got a shocking level of positive feedback. People were thrilled! It actually worked! One of our senior identifiers, LaMonte Yarroll, got so excited he exclaimed, “I don’t believe it. You’ve created a working synoptic key!” (To which I silently responded, “A what?” and then ran off to look the word up). A few months later the Club had its annual foray where two renowned field identifiers, Gary Lincoff and Bolete Bill Yule, were the featured speakers. They were just as encouraging. Even John Plischke III (a/k/a “JP3”) – the unquestioned top field mycologist in my area and one of the most respected ones in the entire world – had a tremendous amount of fun flipping back and forth to test the thing out for holes. And so I determined to expand the thing.

The obvious solution was to use a computer program as the filtering system instead of transparencies. Which would let me add new filters at will… and expand the number of mushrooms beyond what a single 8-1/2 x 11 page could hold… and cover other parts of the country… And thus, with a bit of much-treasured encouragement and counsel from the now-retired Professors Bessette, it snowballed into what you now see.

Once the system got up many people showed up from around the country to comment, help, and contribute in ways I hadn’t imagined. For example, I hadn’t realized how important photos would be until JP3 (that’s John) offered up his hoard of bolete photos from around the country (150 separate species and counting!). In an instant the whole tenor of the site changed. Then other top experts – people whose ID’s could be trusted since I’m not good enough to trust my own judgment (at least not yet) – offered some of their photos to fill in the blanks. People like Igor Safonov in New Jersey, Walt Sturgeon in Ohio, Dave Wasilewski in Eastern Pa., along with West-Coasters such as Debbie Viess and Alan Rockefeller. As I write this one of the best field mycologists in all of Canada, Ms. Renee Lebeuf, has offered up her trove too. The result was a spectrum of photos that collectively give the user a sort of gestalt-view of each species going far beyond the limits that money imposes on any book that gets printed on paper.

“Wow,” I thought. “This is turning into something really special.” And still the snowball grew. Robert Gergulics of The 3 Foragers came to our foray in 2015, gave the system a thorough vetting, and provided yet another burst of enthusiasm. He and Igor Safonov collaborated on the Concordance document that allowed me to move from the names published in North American Boletes toward something close to the current state-of-the-art science at the end of 2015. The most senior expert in the country on bolete genetics, Dr. Roy Halling, got interested in the new level of popular energy and (in addition to other bits of counsel) sprinkled his particular brand of holy water on the Concordance.

And so it goes. The snowball keeps getting bigger and I, as amateur as they get, find myself in the middle of what’s starting to look like a genuinely useful scientific tool.

I couldn’t be more thrilled, and from the bottom of my heart I thank all the people who have helped to move it along. I’ve only begun to mention them. My wife Kate got omitted (boy am I going to pay for that!) or my long-suffering daughters Miranda and Eleanore (ditto); I didn’t go into the whole tale of mushroom picking with my in-laws in the Czech Republic (that most mushroom-crazed of all nations); I forgot to mention the invaluable technical contributions from our Club President Richard Jacob; etc. See the list of thank-you’s in the Sources Page for still more names. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring.

I hope that answered your question. That is who I am, and that is how the Bolete Filter came to be.

Very truly yours,

Scott Pavelle, Esq., Pittsburgh, PA

November 18, 2015