Where I write

Where I write

October 22, 2015

THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE

   Last week I found a wicker basket, donned my pink sweater, slipped into a pair of sturdy boots and skipped into the Cascade mountains of Oregon searching for mushrooms. Along the ancient forest trail, I saw black squirrels, deer and more varieties of mushrooms than I ever knew existed. Fat ones, yellow ones, big ones and small, all in one tiny corner of the vast forest. 

    Deep in the woods I met a big bad wolf who....nope that's not the story. I didn't wear a red cape and meet a wolf  though that would have made for a good story, too. Actually I have met a few wolves in my day who tried to gobble me up, but that's a story for another time. And sometimes being gobbled ain't so bad.

   However, in the forest I did meet a lot of mushroom people. You've never met a mushroom person? I met many at the Oregon retreat center where the focus for a few days was on...you guessed it...those things that sprout out of the ground and can be eaten. Well, some mushrooms can be tossed into a salad or stirred into a quiche, but some of these little numbers can kill you, too. 

   Mushrooms are just the fruit of the plant. Under the ground is a  huge network of roots that connect the mushrooms. It's like a mushroom interstate beneath our feet. Miles and miles of mushroom highway with now and then a mushroom popping out of the ground to say, Here I am!

The mushroom people aren't obsessed with mushrooms because they taste good. Food is not utmost in their minds. They are obsessed with mushrooms because...well they just really really like them. A lot. For them joy is spelled with M. 
    The smiling man in the jaunty olive-colored cap, Daniel Winkler, has a travel agency devoted solely to mushroom hunting. What a way to make a living, eh?  It's called Mushroaming. He spends a lot of time around the world foraging. I listened to him lecture about mushrooms in the Colombian cloud forest. He ignored the fact he could be kidnapped by rebels, as long as he found a rare mushroom. Gotta respect that devotion. Noah Siegel, the burly man on my right, has devoted his life to fungus. He just finished a seven year stint traveling the coast of California to write a book on that region's mushrooms. Seven years. I would have been distracted after one week, at tops, and suggested we put down our wicker baskets and go to happy hour and maybe find a thrift store for some bargain hunting instead.   
Noah's girlfriend, that young pretty girl on the left, has the patience to document mushrooms. She's an expert with using various mushrooms to dye silk. That scarf we are holding was dyed with mushrooms.  Alissa says mycopigments are her obsession. Mycopigments is a big word for stuff dyed using  mushrooms. Below is an example of work she did at retreat.

When I saw a mushroom I use to think ..oh its just a mushroom. A mushroom is a mushroom. It was as if I would meet a person and think they were like all the other people in the world. I know better than that now. Here's just a sample of all the mushrooms found in a ten mile radius of the festival.
The mushrooms were collected in the morning and then placed the cardboard containers for identification. The experts all know these complicated and scientific names that I can't pronounce. After a day or two,  my friend and I were becoming a bit weary of mushrooms. When people weren't picking mushrooms, or listening to lectures about mushrooms, or looking at them beneath a microscope, they were sitting in the dining hall talking about the Kardashians. Got you. Actually the mushroom people do not seem to even exist on the same planet as the Kardashians. Which isn't such a bad thing.

My friend and I didn't feel as if we really were mushroom people, even if we were at the mushroom event. I know. That doesn't make sense. I don't always make sense but that's okay. Anyway, on the last day they cooked up the mushrooms. Sauteed and mixed with risotto and  vegetables, the scent of mushrooms wafted across the forest.
I didn't eat one. Not one mushroom. I blame this on Michael Beug, an expert in toxic and hallucinogenic mushrooms. In his younger years, he likely took a couple trips himself without a plane ticket if you know what I mean. I'm just guessing. 
Michael  knows his mushrooms and can tell you so much about them that your head begins to feel like one big mushroom. He can identify the toxic ones can shut down your liver and kidneys and make you want to jump out of a moving car.  Michael told  about how the wrong ones can kill you. Scarier than any ghost story.  What if just one bad mushroom got in the bunch and thrown into the stew? My friend and I didn't take any chances. I regret that now. As far as I know, no one died after the mushroom feast. They all were there for breakfast the next morning. If they did, they would have died happy though, doing what they love.
This lady, who I'm ashamed to say I didn't get her name, spent the entire conference just sitting by  mushroom table and taking photos of mushrooms. That's all she wanted to do. Photograph mushrooms. She didn't get bored. We all have something that turns us on. And there's something to be said when it's a fungus that grows on the forest floor.  
I had plenty of time to think while I was in Oregon, staying as we were in these small cabins with no Internet or cell phone connection or even a radio or television. (I wasn't even suppose to use my blow dryer but I did. A girl doesn't want to look like a mushroom for pete's sake!)

 Surrounded by the quiet and the mushroom people, I thought about obsession. 

Years ago I took a writing class titled in Obsession in Writing. The teacher said to give my main characters an obsession, something that drives the character's behavior. An obsession can define a character and make him or her act in specific ways such as these mushroom people loving to tramp through the damp woods forging for tiny objects. Our obsessions make us special. No matter if it is knitting, or skydiving, mushroom foraging or writing. Make yourself happy.

I wanted to figure out what my obsession might be as I travel this road of life. Well, I love to go to lunch or happy hour with friends and laugh and talk and shop at the thrift store and play Scrabble. And laugh some more.  Maybe I could write about that. I wouldn't mind researching that book for seven years at all. I've already put in a few decades. 

2 comments:

Tracy Mears said...

I cannot believe you skipped the mushroom feast...but then again why take the chance of dying?? Remember that Clint Eastwood movie The Beguiled and how those little Confederate girls killed him with mushroom soup? Yikes, I guess I'd have skipped eating them too.

Wow, even dying a scarf such a bright pink. Amazing. Those two guys look a bit dirty though, hope they washed their hands before harvesting the forest floor. I remember once reading about a mushroom that was a single root of like monstrous size. Weird stuff.

Anyway, I loved your post and your photos were great. Cute cabin. I think your obsession is travel and mine too, so not sure why I put myself into a pickle like full time job! Nice piece!

SunsetCindi said...

It's so interesting the variety of mushrooms, who knew!! What a fabulous trip, so eye-opening though I'm with you about over-mushrooming. I can only take so much insight before I need to go chat up some friends.

You do the coolest things and that's what makes life worth living!

Love, love, love the way you piece things together and write, keep it up!!!!