Sunday, October 02, 2016

Mushrooming in Nature's Living Room

Our Friends of Herrontown Woods nonprofit hosted a mushroom walk last weekend. Philip Poniz (right), who had offered to co-lead, began by saying he is not an expert, but offered as evidence of his knowledge that he had been foraging for many years and is still alive. In keeping with the egalitarian nature of our walks, others contributed their knowledge as well, including Peter Ihnat (left in the photo).

The weather had been dry, and scouting around a few days before, I had found only one mushroom rising from the ground. It was quickly identified by Philip and others as an "avenging angel", one of the most poisonous mushrooms of all. If the angels are seeking revenge, what hope do we have? This is why, in addition to any laws against foraging on public lands, I encouraged participants to only harvest knowledge and pleasure during the walk.

We headed up the red trail (check out the newly completed, remarkable remarking of trails at Herrontown Woods in our updated brochure), past the Veblen cottage, finding a few fungi here and there, clinging to fallen logs.

I didn't ask what this one was, found during the scouting trip, but it looks reminiscent of a fungus called turkey tail. One participant asked if observing what animals eat can give clues as to which mushrooms are edible. We heard a story of two squirrels being tracked after having eaten a certain mushroom. Both died. Some animals may get more tutelage from their elders than others.

There was another story about the "big laughing Jim" mushroom, which can contain varying amounts of psilosybin.

Though the mushrooms would have preferred rain, we basked in the comfort of dappled shade, heading off trail to see Herrontown Woods' special mix of nature and culture, scrutinizing the fungal legacy on trees toppled by past windstorms.

The beech forest on the far side of the pipeline right of way has a nice open feel. We were happy with our modest findings, the day, the woods, the company, but a surprise awaited that ended the walk with an appropriate exclamation point.

Most of us had already walked by, but filmmaker Andrea Odezynska had the eye to spot this foot-tall mushroom growing on the bare ground where a tree had been uprooted. Books came out, a name was tentatively offered: 
"stalked polypore?", 
the stuff of lore, 
what we'd all been waiting for. 

We pulled out our cameras and surrounded it as if we were the mama-and-paparazzi, and it were a movie star. It seemed unfazed.

Afterwards, many stayed on for refreshments and conversation next to Veblen House, just off the beaten trail. Thanks to all who contribute to our Friends of Herrontown Woods, and our work to maintain the trails, restore habitat and bring the wonderful Veblen legacy to life for the community.

Foraging on the internet, I found this site: The Three Foragers, a family that has delved deep into wild edibles and speaks to the riches nature has to offer, and the importance of foraging carefully and responsibly. Though foraging is highly discouraged at Herrontown Woods and other nature preserves, the walk offered food for thought (a much safer food than wild mushrooms!) on how we can safely and sustainably connect to the nature around us in more than an observational way.

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