Driving down Haydenville Road today, I saw a car pulled over on the berm of the road. The driver crossed the road where a gully seemed to swallow her. She bent over and began to closely examine the ground. My curiosity once piqued was satisfied. She was a mushroom hunter. I have a healthy respect for people who are sufficiently confident in their ability to identify mushrooms that they will put their lives on line with their harvest. There are a plethora of web-sites dedicated to educating people who are curious about the practice. Mushroomhunter.net touts the wonders of the mushroom and all of its fungal cousins. However, before going too far with the raves the authors caution, "There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”(This is attributed to Klingensmith.)
The hill that rolls down from our house, beneath our deck, has produced a prodigious number of mushrooms this year. According to a report I heard from the U.S. Department of Fish and Game, the wet weather this fall produced the ideal conditions for mushrooms to prosper and multiply. I have risked life and limb to balance on the steep hill and photographed them repeatedly. This preoccupation with the wonder of mushrooms reportedly runs in the family. My grandmother’s brother started a business as a teenager when he made a fortuitous discovery of a crop of edible mushrooms growing in one of their grain silos. My great-uncle Donald found hundreds of desirable mushrooms growing happily in the dark, dank damp environment of abandoned corn. Before long, local housewives and restauranteurs turned to him for their mushroom supplies. Happily for all, everyone survived.
I am less sanguine about the prospects of safe selection of mushrooms. I claim a particularly healthy respect for the supermarket, shrink-wrapped varieties after an incident in college. A family who had immigrated to the U.S. from Italy lived in my apartment complex. After several rainy days in a row, we would see the wife (a scarf covering her head and tightly knotted under her chin)out in the apartment common with basket and knife at the ready to hunt mushrooms. Everything was fine....until it wasn’t. I commented to the complex manager that I had not seen the couple lately. His face grew ponderous and sad. “She killed him,” he said. I screeched, horrified- I was envisioning guns, knives and bloody carnage. “She poisoned him when she fed him the wrong kind of mushroom.” It’s been thirty years, and that incident lives as vivid in my memory as if it happened last week. Despite the abundance of mushrooms on our hill, I am not the least tempted to bring them home for dinner. I will stick to the photographic preservation of the mushrooms I find.
Technical glitch: In a perfect example of how life and art merge, my new computer is resisting all my attempts to upload one of the many fabulous mushroom photographs I captured. Apparently, I am lacking the expertise to figure it out tonight. One day, when least expected, pictures of mushrooms will blossom suddenly on my blog. Look for them!