Mushroom Pickers in the Woods

“Are you sure you know what you are doing?” I said.

The woman looked at me the way one looks at a human turd, found in the middle of the trail. Bent over she dug at the roots of a tree. Her hiking boots were caked in mud. It was odd as the trail was dry and leafy.

“I’ve been picking mushrooms for thirty years in my country,” she said. She continued to stuff what looked like a mound of brown leaves into a large plastic bag. It was almost full.

“But this is Canada. The mushrooms are different here. They might look the same but you never know.”

“I do know. These are perfect. I pick them every year.”

She mumbled something to her friend. Her accent sounded Russian.

“Get a bag. I’ll show you which ones to pick,” she said.

“No thanks. Mushrooms can be deadly. Besides we are not supposed to pick any plants on the trail.”

Her look was enough to wither a grape. I left the two women and continued the hike.

We were on a fifteen kilometre trek along the Bruce Trail. Some fifty members of the hiking club were strung out along the route. The fast hikers were probably waiting for the rest of the slow pokes, the mushroom pickers and the photographers to catch up. The sweep was behind us. He would hurry the pickers along. I hoped he would tell them off too. We are supposed to take nothing but photographs from the trail.

Mushrooms seems to be popping everywhere I looked – from high on the tree trunks, rotting branches and out of the ground. I could reliably identify only one species in the wild – the giant puffballs, big and white as a football. They are lovely dipped in egg and batter, then deep fried. So I am told. I have yet to try them.

A friend used to go mushroom hunting in the woods. For magic mushrooms. She said they gave a pleasant high. She only ate them when others were around, just in case she had a bad trip.

One woman had a reaction to mushrooms. She was a botany student, specializing in studying mushrooms. One day she was out in her parents’ garden and picked some small ones. They were beige, flecked with orange and brown spots.  She double checked her reference guide to make sure they were the right species and edible. She stir-fried them in butter with onions, a little salt and pepper.

She was still at the table, the treat half eaten when her parents came home from work. Their daughter was as cold as an iceberg.

I love mushrooms, especially the oyster and shitake. Mine always come clearly labelled from the supermarket. Hunting for truffles in the woods sound like a lovely way to spend an autumn afternoon. I would go for the walk and the fresh air. And leave the mushrooms alone. I will take no chances.

Sailing on a Half Moon


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