It was a dark and wet typical November weekend but the salal shone with a green intensity that celebrated the weeks of rain, the lichen decorating rocks and branches was plush with moisture, and the mushrooms—the mushrooms were holding their own gala event. In preparation for attending our first mushroom extravaganza, aptly named, we walked slowly, heads down, scanning the ground. Into the trees, slightly off the path, meandering into mossy dells and leaf-strewn hollows. And there they were, popping up, well, like mushrooms. Small delicate brown ones, startling white knobby ones, gingery-orange ones, fluted, gilled, spindly or sturdy, one at a time or in rashes of eruption. It was a treasure hunt.
We didn’t, just then, try to name them or classify them in any way. My copy of David Arora’s excellent guidebook, All That the Rain Promises, and More, was still tucked in my suitcase and my copy of Margaret’s The Savory Wild Mushroom is too fragile for field outings on such a rainy day. It didn’t matter. Our only purpose was to wander and wonder.
Later that day, when the exhibition hall opened, the mushroom hunters filled the tables with mushrooms as big as cabbages and tiny as jewels, of every color and shape imaginable and a good many beyond imagination. The experts paused, studied, sometimes conferred, and then scribbled the Latin names and common names by each specimen. Some tables featured edibles while others displayed mushrooms not suitable for the forager’s pot. Listening in, I learned that there is a not a firm line between the two groups and some risky nibbling was confessed, for the sake of scientific discovery, or boundary pushing, or anthropological experimentation. Everyone could agree and marvel at the abundant haul of one day’s search. The Earth was richly generous with mycological gifts for all who knew where to look.
The chaga tea* flowed, camaraderie filled the place with good feeling and shared curiosity, amateurs were encouraged, experts and adepts respected and admired. The talks by the guest specialists were informative and yet accessible even to rank beginners such as ourselves. We left feeling encouraged and motivated to learn more about mushrooms, these amazing life forms that are anything but ordinary.
Warming up in a nearby café, we fell into conversation with a neighbor. She talked about how mushroom hunting benefited her in another way; she said looking for mushrooms brought her peace and calm. It didn’t take many steps into a mushroom walk to slow down and free her mind of nagging thoughts, her said that her gaze cleared and became focused, and the mushrooms appeared. For her, such a walk was a form of meditation, a centering exercise, and spiritually refreshing just to see them.
November is considered cheerless and dark by many, but now it has assumed a bright new dimension: a month of celebration of mushrooms! A chance to experience the quiet pleasure of looking down—and inwards—to discover one of the wonders of the world, the fruiting of the mysterious mycelia that binds the underworld of Nature in a vast living web.
*Chaga tea is made from a Siberian mushroom and is considered by some as an immune booster and general tonic.