Few people, either on foot or in cars, were on the road this morning, but who could blame them? The oppressive heat and humidity had been hanging on for days, with no relief in sight. But the weather didn’t deter us; we were off on our very first mushroom hunting expedition. I had been dreaming about this for months and nothing would stand in my way.
We joined up at Kennedy Park in Lenox with some other folks who had traveled some distance for the hunt and were thrilled when John Wheeler, President of the Berkshire Mycological Society, arrived soon after to teach us some basics about mushrooms and mushrooming. Just as I thought we would embark on our quest, he burst our collective bubble by telling us that commercial pickers had wiped the park clean. But, like a novelist who knows how to devise a good plot, he then redeemed himself by bringing us to another place further down the road.
Birdsong and the babble of running water, along with the occasional snapping twig, filled the woods with cheerful music. The forest floor was damp and fragrant with the aroma of decaying leaves. And slippery. I found long branch to use as a walking stick that turned out to be a wise decision.
We hiked down a hill, over felled trees, under branches, and through said babbling brook. I have to admit I expended more energy attempting to remain upright than I did actually seeking out fungi. Perhaps with practice this will get easier, I thought.
It turned out that John had to leave early to attend a wedding, so we were left to fend for ourselves. Afraid that we would get lost in the woods, we tried to follow him as he ascended the steep embankment with the agility of a gazelle. We realized quickly that we were not going to make it. Remember “slippery?” Well, my feet lost their grip on the muddy slope and as I slid downward, one leg wrapped around a tree while the rest of me continued down the slope. Trust me when I say this was not the most attractive pose I have ever been in, and I pray that nobody had a camera at that precise moment.
Although only one member of our party found a single oyster mushroom, we did succeed in netting some wild ramps and wild ginger, so the hike wasn’t a complete bust.
The beauty of exploring nature with the possibility of finding treasure is enchanting, and I think probably addictive, but next time I’ll stick to flat terrain. And I’ve already ordered a couple of field guides to ensure that I don’t ingest the wrong type of fungus.
As the Croatians like to say, “Every mushroom is edible, but some only once.”