Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nature's Deadly Deceptives

   Out in the autumn woods an explosion of wild mushrooms is another sign of nature’s generosity, and her dangers. Mushrooms flourish because of wetter than normal conditions. I’ve seldom seen so many different varieties and such spectacular colours. There are bright orange mushrooms, deep blacks, and brilliant whites.
   Mushrooms have a mystical draw. You see one standing white and fleshy in a beam of sunlight illuminating the dark forest floor. It calls seductively: “Come over and pick me. I am delicious.” I am tempted to pick and eat that mushroom. It looks so delicious, but I know better.
Sketch by Zita Poling Moynan
   I picked and ate many forest mushrooms years go. That was under the supervision of Emma Tadashore of Sault Ste. Marie, my mother-inlaw, who directed me to pick only the little mushrooms that grew under pine trees. She would examine my harvest, then boil the mushrooms in a pot with a silver coin and a few cloves of garlic. That was back when silver coins still were made of real silver. If the coin and garlic did not turn green, the mushrooms were good to eat.
   Some people now believe that is just an old wives’ tale. So now I don’t pick any wild mushrooms, especially after reading a New York Times article in which a medical doctor described how he poisoned himself despite following a respected field guide to wild mushrooms. Apparently some of the differences between poisonous and edible mushrooms can be subtle.
   Ask Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer, the popular novel that was turned into a movie starring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas. He picked mushrooms in the Scottish Highlands, cooked them in butter and parsley, and served them to his wife, brother-in-law, and his brother-in-law’s wife. His wife and brother-in-law were placed on dialysis and wait-listed for kidney transplants. Evans received a new kidney from his adult daughter.
   This reminds me that despite the considerable time I spend at Shaman’s Rock I know too little about nature. I wish I had spent less time with my nose in computer manuals and more learning about the plant life around me, or the stars in the sky. I was forced to study computer programs to keep current for work. Now I wish I had spent more time studying botany, zoology, and the night skies. These subjects lead right into the reasons for, and purposes of life.
(excerpted from my latest book: Bears in the Birdfeeders)

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