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Sep 18, 2011

Mushroom picking in the Rehoboth forest

An early autumn day can make air so transparent, you half-expect to see the past. I almost expect to see my father, mother, my brother and me when I was five in the next clearing. The air is not thick with fragrance like in the Summer; it is colder, lighter; it breathes light covetously while it lasts. The light is different; colder and yet more penetrating, as if coming from a different direction. And the sound too has changed slightly; it is crisper and less crowded. Svetlana and I went to the Rehoboth forest; the name seems to be picked from Tolkien’s books (although it is Biblical, oh well, the same thing; the name is inviting of giants and creepy things). We went to enjoy the early fall’s air and pick mushrooms.

Picking mushrooms is a multisensory game, which very few Americans seem to enjoy. Good, more mushrooms to us! It is biologically programmed in us: walking in the woods, searching, recognizing patterns, shapes, and colors, reading tracks of looking for food. Just like watching water or fire, one never gets tired of it. And then, of course, there is the inevitable talk about which species are edible, and which are not, with touching, smelling, breaking the fungus in question. Ah, we’re two days late, and worms have feasted on mushrooms that could be all ours. We compare our respective families’ folk traditions, remember how we learned this in our childhood, and who taught us. Our fingers turn black and sticky from some mushroom juices. The dog is happy sleuthing without a leash, engrossed in knows what private doggie fantasies. 

People generally overestimate the risk of eating wild mushrooms. Only a couple of species are deadly, and those are easy to recognize. I remember colorful pictures of common poisonous mushrooms – mulhomor and poganka shown in my preschool. My mother points them out to me every time we go to the forest. Many inedible mushrooms will give you a diarrhea, or will taste bad, and not much more. Driving to the forest is a lot more dangerous than eating the mushrooms we pick, with our average Russian knowledge of the forest. I think about risks we take and do not take. I think about my own life – did I take the right risks? Too many or too few? Who knows what the right amount is? Perhaps the dog, but he is preoccupied with his own thoughts, and won’t tell.

1 comment:

  1. I was lucky to go with friends in the Czech Republic mushroom-hunting. Indeed, it seems something all of them knew from childhood. It was a different risk for them than for me...Seemed to point to being prepared as one can be toward a risk, but in the end, one has to make the decision for oneself.