Hunt for Wild Mushrooms

There’s magic in wild mushrooms, not of the sort that makes things disappear, but instead the kind that opens your eyes to worlds you once missed.

| October/November 2004

Wild Mushrooms

One nice thing about hunting for mushrooms is that you’re almost certain to bag something — wherever you are, they are too. Hardly a breeze blows that’s not laden with spores. Mushrooms have even been known to push through city sidewalks. Suburban lawns, Alaskan tundra and desert chaparral all harbor fungi.

Photo courtesy Fotolia/Robert Hoetink

Mother's Nature

You’ll find me, on any given day when I can get away, stalking the deep woods, stumbling down soggy banks into dark streambeds, peering into hollow moss-covered logs, craning my neck toward the highest branches of dying trees, dropping to my knees to sift through leaf litter, rising and walking in one direction, then another, crisscrossing, circling, crisscrossing again, with no apparent aim. Seeing me, only a fellow mycophile would know that I am neither drunk nor addled nor lost, but simply following my obsession. I am hunting for mushrooms.

My fascination for fungi started because wherever I walked in the woods, there they were — big ones, little ones, flat ones, conical ones; red, white, brown, orange; speckled, smooth, ragged, ruffled — poking up out of leaf litter, jutting from tree trunks, standing singly on the ground like lone sentinels, huddled in little groups like close-lipped conspirators.

The trouble was, I had no idea beyond the word mushroom just what they were. What was that lovely ivory one with the lacy collar? How about those purplish pixie parasols? Those wrinkled rust-hued vases?

In the face of such frequent reminders, I could ignore my ignorance for only so long. On every hike, I could almost hear them taunting me: You don’t know anything about us. Not even our names.

Well, OK, we’ll just see about that.

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