Like most people, the pandemic has left me with a lot of spare time on my hands (though, of course, never as much as I’d like). One thing that I am very grateful for is that I live on my family’s beautiful sheep farm. I’ve always been passionate about nature, and my friends and family will attest to how much I ramble on about birds. I’m lucky to have plenty of space to go out and enjoy nature, and it’s really helped me get through the various lockdowns.
But recently I’ve delved into a new topic of interest that I’ve always been curious about, but never put much thought into: mushrooms!
I’ve always loved mushrooms aesthetically; spotted toadstools are emblematic of autumn, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the gothic-horror potential of cordyceps, a fungus that essentially turns bugs into zombies. The sheer variety of mushrooms is incredible; there are parasitic mushrooms, mushrooms that look like octopi, ones shaped like teeth, even ones that glow in the dark!
My dad brought in some firewood one evening with some strange mushrooms sticking out of it. These were ochre brackets, little fan-shaped mushrooms with rings of white, cream, and brown. After this I was curious about what other mushrooms I could find around our property. So I decided one day to go along on my regular walking track, but this time, deliberately take in my surroundings and look for mushrooms. The ideal time for mushroom hunting is autumn, and I had decided on this hobby at the end of winter, but I’ve been having a blast so far!
It was amazing just how many mushrooms I found when I was seeking them out. I have to wonder now how many I’ve passed by without even realising it.
On my walking track, I began to notice some regulars; the cluster of round “Dead Man’s Foot” mushrooms with cracked surfaces; the cracked cap polypore attached to a tree trunk that looked like it could be a balcony for fairies, and its neighbours, the robust brackets that resembled russet-coloured bubbles springing out of the tree. It began to be part of my routine to find these familiar mushrooms and “check in” with them. When I spotted one I would excitedly rush over to take pictures, see if anything had changed, and debate over whether to leave it be or bring it home to see what I could do with it.
Mostly I’ve been leaving them alone, but with some truly shocking winds one of my favourites, a decently-sized meadow mushroom, had been violently uprooted. I carried it with me like a tiny parasol until I got home, when I placed it outside until I could figure out what to do with it. If I was right and it was a regular meadow mushroom, it was likely edible! But I’m still an amateur mushroom hunter, so I didn’t want to take the risk.
As tends to happen, I got busy and forgot about the mushroom. A few days passed, and today I went to have a look at it. It had shrivelled and browned, and its gills had blackened and turned slimy. Then I remembered something about certain mushrooms being used to make ink.
I took the mushroom inside, grabbed an old sketchbook, and pressed the gills to the paper. It worked! Maybe not in the refined way that experts had learned to do, but the mushroom was leaving inky, brownish-black stains where I pressed it. The pictures I made with it weren’t pretty, but it sure was satisfying. The ink stained my fingers too, and the fermenting mushroom smelt unexpectedly sweet. I’d like to experiment with this a bit more if I’m lucky enough to find another great specimen like that one. Maybe mushroom art could be my niche.
I’m fully committed to the mushroom life, now. I even bought a grow-kit, and I’m 15 days into growing my own oyster mushrooms! With the kit, I ordered a book on mushrooms that details how varied and fascinating they are! It’s so fulfilling to have this new interest that really ignites something within me. I’m so in awe of these wonderful things: neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are their own order. I want to know everything I can about them.
Using an app called Picture Mushroom, I’ve been identifying mushrooms to the best of my abilities. I’m by no means an expert, and my guesses could be wrong, but I’m sincerely enjoying this little treasure hunt of mine that lets me close off my thoughts for a bit and pay attention to the wonderful world around me. I’ll be sharing some updates on my mushroom journey, and I hope if you’re able to, you take the chance to look around for these little guys that are hiding in plain sight!