I piled into the car with friends One and Two. One gave directions. Two drove. We headed over the back road out of town, turned left onto the Perigueux road, and a twist and a turn later we pulled onto the shoulder of the road in the middle of the forest. This was going to be my first mushroom hunt.
Now you may wonder why my companions are called One and Two. Mushroom hunting does this to people. No names. No names of people. No names of places. If you have permission to hunt in a dark, mushroom filled forest you want to keep the shadows’ bounty secret. If you don’t have permission-- you’re poaching......
One, Two, and I grabbed up our baskets from the trunk and turned into the forest of chestnut and oak trees.
At first I called One over to look at every mushroom I found, but after about two minutes of this it became obvious that today we were looking for only one particular mushroom, le trompette de la mort, the death trumpet! Well, in a land where the numbers of mysterious deaths spike each year during mushroom season, all I could think of was Uh Oh.
At first I couldn’t spot them. Two had headed off on her own leaving me to my own devices and with no advice. But One knew better and would call me over whenever she found a secret fairy circle of the black trumpets. “Look here, around the base of this tree, in the moss.” She (my only clue I’ll give concerning my companion) would pull the black trumpet up by the root, pinching off the tail where a little sprinkle of dirt clung, and toss it into my basket. Voila. That lasted for a little while and then she was off to fill her own basket. My training was over.
My basket filled slowly at first. I’d be distracted by bright, happy looking mushrooms that were so much easier to spy than the dead-leaf colored object of today’s hunt. From childhood I have had the fear of God put into me about picking and eating mushrooms and I wasn’t about to put anything into my basket that wasn’t a trumpet of the dead - an ironic name for someone as afraid of mushrooms as I am.
It wasn’t long before my childhood spent in the woods kicked in and I began to notice a pattern to where I was finding my prey. Under a dead rotting branch, close to the base of larger oak trees, tucked up against a chestnut burr. Now that I was more clued in, after I had harvested all in one area I could quickly find a new patch. Then One called me over to another section of the forest. Here there were patches in strangely cleared spaces. Still full of lovely leaf debris, but no tree stumps or dead branches. It was hard to move without stepping on the trumpets. At one point Two said, “It seems like they are growing right in front of me as I pick them. Where are they all coming from?” I had thought the exact same thing a few minutes earlier. But there was little conversation as we each fell into our own tranquility. Just One, Two and me, and the deep woodsy smell of wet oak leaves, the pitter patter of water droplets and the chhh chhh chhh of a tiny squirrel.
The light slinked out of the way as evening began its slow autumnal fall, and so with baskets pretty dang full we headed up through the forest to the car. Stooping along the way to pick that one last beautiful trumpet. With our baskets tucked into the trunk Two asked, “Straight on down the road?” and One said, “Yes, no retracing our steps, we have to confuse anyone that might see us.” So over hill and dale we returned to Bourdeilles. I returned home with a basket full of mushrooms and a mouth zipped shut.
p.s. Dear Mom, I promise not to try this on my own! xoxo s