Dear Readers, today we went for a fungi foray in Coldfall Wood. We were all a little dizzy with excitement, as I had been trying to find someone to lead a walk for weeks, and then, like a blessing, Mario arrived. The walk only had 20 places, but it was subscribed twice over. I had no idea that there was such interest in these ephemeral organisms, but soon we were ‘getting our eye in’ and spotting them all over the place. We saw more than 30 species in an hour and a half, and I will do a longer post soon describing what we saw.
If you have a wood nearby, and haven’t had a chance to explore it for a while, do go. This seems like a particularly splendid year for fungi, who are maybe recovering after all the period during Covid when it seemed as if everyone in the world had descended on any woodland that they could find, in a kind of desperation to be outdoors. Their variety and abundance is astonishing at the moment, but not probably for much longer – once the rain and the frost get going, it will be mostly over until next year.
For now, though, I wanted to share their beauty with you, and also this poem: I love the way that the poet weaves the life of the forest together, from what we can see above ground to the intricate weaving of mycelial threads underground. The poem is by Paige Quiñones, a poet that I hadn’t come across before. She is writing about foraging for mushrooms probably in the US where she’s based, and by the size of the spiders I’d say maybe the south west of the country, but still, there is much that is familiar here. See what you think.
Mushrooms by Paige Quiñones
Pulling my first from its place in the forest floor
felt like slipping a key from its partnered, well-oiled lock.
Broken so cleanly at the stem it appeared scalpel-sliced.
You assured me this was a good find, a Boletus from its reddened bruise
and lack of gills. But chanterelles proved easiest to forage;
their penny-bright caps glinted between dead leaves, ripe for the taking.
Spiders were the largest animals we saw that day: orb weavers
bigger than a man’s fist, sharp-legged seamstresses whose webs
like neural networks transgressed each clearing. Without hair
they weren’t so frightening, as if each spider had disrobed herself
to display a less menacing skeleton. Still, we kept our distance.
And suddenly what I had never paid attention to was flourishing:
oysters in bursts around a rotting stump, Amanitas with their white
burial shroud, indigo milk caps as fluted and blue as
a ballerina’s tulle skirt. You told me the wildness
might not be as feral as we think. That the fungi’s filaments
weave a pattern, a conscious fabric, engaging the nearest tree with
its opposite furthest tree to say entwine your roots with my mycelia
and I will tell you my secrets. We followed their invisible cartography
by whatever heads peered up from autumn’s detritus.
And though we were strangers there, unmooring
each mushroom that seemed least dangerous, we could feel
the vast organism underfoot. Silent but for the sounds
of insects, unwitting and soon to be caught.