Conditions are optimal, cool but not cold, rainy but not soggy-wet. Will this be the Fall I finally go mushroom hunting? I often see mushrooms and marvel at their variety of shapes and colors: pink! Orange! Stark white! From puffballs to morels, they are fascinating and strange. As a kid, I collected bracket fungi, the kind that forms little shelves on trees, but other than appreciating their velvety touch and curious appearance, I didn’t know much about them. Exploring Margaret’s world has opened the door to a greater understanding of fungi.
Margaret’s first published book was an introductory text on mushrooms, written for children and adult novices. Mushrooms of Field and Wood was published in 1929, after years of her own study and joy of hunting mushrooms with friends and fellow adepts. It was then—and to some extent still is—a pursuit tinged with mystery and a hint of danger if the object of desire was culinary in nature. Margaret herself often warned readers in her local newspaper column and other publications that, “Meadow mushrooms [for instance] are good food, and it’s lots of fun to go to the meadows and gather a big basketful, but be very, very careful about gathering them. For the first few times always go with someone who knows about them scientifically.” She did all she could to educate the public through her books, Nature Notes, slide presentations, radio talks, and mushroom exhibits and shows. Her door was famously open to all who had questions about what they had found in those fields and woods.
Margaret is not here to answer knocks on the door these days, but her own book, the second one on the subject, The Savory Wild Mushroom, as well as many good field guides with hundreds of photographs displaying the colorful world of mushrooms are a place to begin. And mushrooms stand still while you flip through the pages, unlike a bird on the wing or one half hidden by bushes. Still, “hundreds” of mushrooms can be daunting. Author Annie Lamont reminds us to learn our birds, “bird by bird” and remember, we already know robins, crows and eagles, and many others. I think I’d know a morel or a chantarelle, but before I head out with a gathering basket, I’ll be tapping someone who knows them “scientifically” to lead the trip. I promise not to tell just where the treasures are to be found!