Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mushroom Hunters - Long ago, far away.

When I was a kid, my parents and I would go mushrooming with a few of my mother's cousins. None of us knew for sure which were the good mushrooms and which ones would kill us, but my Great Aunt did.

She was a wonderful old Polish lady who wore sensible Enna Jettick black tie shoes, and had her grey hair done up in a bun at the base of her neck. During the weekdays she wore a babushka (scarf) on her head if she went out. On Sundays she wore her fabulous black hats. We all called her "Mamu" which means "mother" in Polish.

On sultry summer days when it rained in the morning, we would go out that very afternoon and hunt for mushrooms in the air still thick with after-rain energy. The woods of New England are densely carpeted with fallen leaves and pine needles. The mushrooms grow up from beneath them, so to find them when they are young and tender, one often has to uncover them.

The way to find hidden mushrooms is simple.

Go into the woods.

Still your senses.


Walk into the forest a bit further, and inhale again.

Wait for the inhalation to come that is different, slightly musty. The air will start to carry the slightest scent of mushroom. Follow it. Your senses will guide you to treasure if you just get out of the way.

So there we would be -- several very quiet people heading into the lush deep blue-green Massachusetts forest walking, stopping, breathing. Paying attention. Then someone would catch the scent, or sight the very tip of a young pink mushroom poking out from beneath the pine needles and a chorus of happy shouts would echo through the woods as we all ran to the spot and gathered up the bounty into big cloth-lined baskets.

We knew a few to stay away from - but just to be certain that we had not collected anything dangerous, we would take the whole batch to Mamu who would sit on her front porch while we dumped the contents of one basket at a time into her aproned lap. She would patiently sort through them, commenting all the while, admiring good finds. The good ones were then threaded on thick thread with a needle and hung in the cellar near Mamu's old coal burning furnace to dry. We would not see those mushrooms again until Christmas Eve when they reappeared in Mamu's delectable mushroom soup.

I bought a small package of shitake mushrooms today in the grocery store. Domesticated mushrooms - fungi with all the wildness taken out. Safe, sterile mushrooms that one does not have to hunt for. There is no sense of discovery in the taste. No connection with experience, adventure, family. It may have well have been a plastic sponge or a clothes hanger.

I came home missing the scent of the wet woodland, longing for the smell of humid woodsy green (which really is its own smell), the subtle catch of secret mustiness. I saw all those hunters before me again -- my mother, my father, my cousins, Mamu -- all gone from this earth now. The comfort of memory came with an aftertaste of yearning.

It is going to snow here tonight. There will be no musky scents on the wind. Tonight I pray for tender dreams of pine needles, scrub oak and maples, of careful breathing steps through the trees, and for the slender, fragile hope of old discoveries made new.


Blogger Hyperion said...

Pretty cool thoughts. I abhor mushrooms like I hate child abuse and Yoko Ono, but your words were tender enough to wrap into my heart in spite of myself. Although, I do have one bone to pick. Your method for finding mushrooms...would work equally well for finding a skunk, no?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Actually, Perfume d'Skunk is a scent that comes agressively right out to meet you. It finds you. And there is none of the subtlety of the quiet hunt for the scent of mushrooms :-)

9:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Feed