Last week my friend Frank and I went mushroom hunting in our woods.
Conditions converged to provide a profusion of fungi, and it seemed we stopped every few feet to review a fresh specimen. Orange, white, gray, golden, spotted, stippled, plain, smooth, rough, flaky, stemmed and shelved, growing out of the trees or growing out of the duff, they were popping out all over.
I don’t know diddly about mushroom hunting. I can identify the very obvious morel, and just this year have solidified my ability to distinguish between chicken-of-the-woods and hen-of-the-woods, but that level of proficiency is akin to identifying a beach ball in a tub full of golf balls. If I authored a mushroom hunter’s guidebook it would be three pages long and scrawled in fat crayon.
Frank, on the other hand, can identify numerous mushrooms, although more than once when I led him to a cluster he said, “I think that one is edible,” or “I don’t think you can eat that one,” which means I don’t think he’s quite ready for his own YouTube channel.
That said, I kept a close eye on him and every time he invoked think, he left the mushroom be. The best antidote to eating a poisonous mushroom is to not eat the poisonous mushroom.
In theory we were foraging, but we were also happily shooting the breeze. We have known each other for years but tend to see each other only a time or two per year. Our families get on well and we usually wind up around a fire pit or sharing a meal.
On this day our time was short, but in addition to the mushroom hunt and general visiting we managed a rousing game of kubb. I enjoy kubb, although I once landed myself in hot water with some of its leading local aficionados when I referred to it as “hippie horseshoes.” I delivered my apology in person.
Uphill, downhill, sidehill, we ranged across twenty or so acres, chattering as we meandered, eyes to the forest floor, and to stumps, and to decaying deadfalls.
While we are generally encouraged to hold our heads high and take in the beauty surrounding us, there is much richness to be observed amongst the rotting leaves and fallen pine needles underfoot.
I was looking in another direction when I heard Frank exclaim, “Ohhhh!” and sure enough, he’d found a good one, a county fair prize-sized hen-of-the-woods nestled up against a stump like an actual fat napping chicken.
Carefully he severed it with his knife and tucked it in a paper shopping bag for the trip home. He declared it was the kind of find that would make his day even if it was the only mushroom he found. But we stuck with it a while longer, and he also collected some edible puffballs and a lovely orange-tinged chicken-of-the-woods
Before Frank and his family departed, we loaded them up with produce from our garden. Then we stood around their car and took a while to say good-bye.
All told, it was a visit of just a few hours, and there is not much more to report except that joy is good people joining together in open air and my wife is a kubb assassin.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.