One Saturday in December we drove through a small grove of woods. We saw people carrying around paper bags and wondered what they were up to. That’s when we started to notice hues of red, orange and yellow peeking through the pine needles.
We found a place to stop and went for a wander. I usually walk to places as if I have an important purpose. My comfortable walking pace is faster than most peoples’. I guess I’m wired a little tight. So, I prefer to call leisurely strolls wanders, because I have no destination in mind.
The people with paper bags were collecting porcini mushrooms. We didn’t notice any mushrooms at first, but once you see a couple they start popping up everywhere. It’s almost as if our eyes and brains shifted into a primal gatherer mode. We ran around the forest exclaiming each time we saw a new species, or an exceptionally beautiful one.
I like how mushrooms smell. They fill the forest with aromas that remind my senses of new life and death at the same time. I suppose this is difficult to understand if you haven’t smelled them before. That is why if you haven’t, you must someday visit a warm, wet forest to smell what I mean.
There were also the pretty red and orange ones we noticed from the road. Most of them had white spots, which is reminiscent of Christmas colors. We thought they might be fly agaric, which I read about on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook last winter. So we picked some, wanting to learn what they were.
When we got home I opened my favorite book on the fruiting bodies of fungi called Mushrooms Demystified.
They were what we thought. Known in the scientic world as Amanita Muscaria, some mystics or shaman types used to eat these for their psychoactive effects. They also make people nauseous, I can’t imagine that being a pleasant combination.
Don’t worry, we never planned to eat them, but we didn’t want to waste what we picked either. We decided to dry them to make Christmas tree ornaments. I hope their beautiful colors don’t fade as they shrivel.