By Verandah Porche
July 1989: A stranger with a colander full of fragrant mushrooms
changed my life. Reinhardt, a German scientist with wild hair, in
khaki shorts, rushed into our dooryard, displayed his heap of gold
chanterelles, and begged for a basket to continue the hunt.
“In your country, no one sees what treasure is here right beside
us,” his rant began. Reinhardt was staying the night with our closest
neighbors – a doctor and his partner, not wild food enthusiasts
– who pictured a skull and crossbones over their last meal. To avert
disaster, they knew where to bring their fervent guest.
Welcome to Total Loss Farm, our old commune in Guilford,
Vermont. It was a typical evening: dinner in the making, field-grown vegetables, home-raised pork chops, strawberry-rhubarb
pie. Nothing wrong with our provisions.
We gazed at the glowing fungus and set down our knives. On
the farm, we baked bread and fermented not-bad wine. Years ago,
I’d injected Roquefort mold into homemade cheese. When the airborne mold flavored all our dairy products, I scrubbed the kitchen
and abandoned the experiment. But here was the missing mystery
ingredient in our summer. I turned off the oven. We picked up
baskets and followed Reinhardt up the steep pasture, through the
puckerbrush, across the stone wall, into the conifers. This was our
gateway into the fifth kingdom of fungus.
Flashback, 1951: Our first mushroom was the radioactive cloud
on TV from the bomb detonated to prevent nuclear war. Civil
defense drills had our generation hiding under desks in suburbs
that had sprung up overnight like mushrooms after rain. Where
I lived, the earth was carved into house lots: private property.
Nature was a nuisance or a force to be manicured and curbed. If
mushrooms invaded my father’s lawn, there was a spray.
Reinhardt vanished soon after sautéing a splendid dish of chante-
relles. He promised we would find more. “Or perhaps,” he said, “the
mushrooms will find you.”
Early each morning, we wandered away from rows of corn and
beans into dappled light and shadow. We took familiar logging
roads, armed with penknives, baskets, mesh bags, and The Audubon
Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. The introduction
had alluded to old myths: mushrooms rising from Zeus’s lightning
striking the earth, little people dancing in fairy rings, the halluci-
nogenic food of the gods. Songbirds trilled in the canopy. I walked
through spider webs laced with dew. I narrowed my gaze to the base
of trees, to fallen trunks or standing ones with damaged bark. With
each foray, I learned to watch my step while sweeping the distance
with my eyes. We wandered together without speaking or branched
MҥЫʇϳι̮; and MȚѥťόʇλ
Chanterelles, a basket of gold.