This summer the air has hung heavy, in a way I’ve rarely sensed in Southern California. Humid, so the scent of sawdust and mown grass, of horse manure and last night’s skunk children playing about under my walk lights, all meet me in the morning.
These let the past slip into my perception, so that for minutes at a time, I’m not here at all. Time travel, spatial travel, all feel as though they really happen even though I stand here in my front yard by orange trees.
I can see back to New Hampshire, 1972, the morning light on stray horses in our back garden, long grass verges drooping with dew and the occasional sparkle as a drop catches the early summer sun warming into gold. A breath later and I’m in 1974, walking a forest path with the dusty fugg of wild mushrooms rising from the paper bag in my hand. Stop, kneel in the oak duff and dust back the leaves to expose the solemn pink of a hydnum with its little hedgehog spines instead of gills under the cap.
I’ve hear it said that time travel is best invoked by smell. Could be. But perhaps it has to do with having a moment to pause, without the dog barking alarms, without our cats calling for food or the chickens squawking disarray and destruction, maybe it’s the right sound that performs an incantation. Marvelous brains that can give us such gifts, or curse us with them.
Envy us my friends — look at this–
Over a pound of morels, Morchella esculenta to be precise. We heard from the kid she’d seen some when out walking with a friend and after grilling her about why she hadn’t collected them, since they were on public property, we headed out. Note, it was after seven o’clock in February so the sun had set. But what are flashlights for? What are mycophiles for? How could we wait?
This is what morels look like when taken by surprise in the dark. We left plenty, and carefully cut the stems above the ground. Some folk say that isn’t necessary, but I would rather have no regrets and this way I can at least know I did my best to leave the mycelia reasonably undisturbed. Maybe we were hobbits in a previous incarnation.
(I will add the necessary caution about collecting mushrooms for food. I’ve been studying mushrooms as a hobby for over forty years and feel reasonably confident of my ability to identify specimens. I’d say never consume wild mushrooms casually. There’s good reason for all the lore about their deadliness. There are great reasons for the wonderful books out there to aid you in identification of types and species. (I don’t even know any more how many of these I own.) Additionally, some folk have allergies to certain species of mushroom and that’s not always predictable. If any doubt exists, toss the fungi away. It’s not worth a stomach ache or worse.)