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'Oyster mushrooms on a log.' Watercolor by Carolyn Newberger

Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 14: Day of the oysters

By Saturday, Oct 5, 2019 Life In the Berkshires

To read the previous installments of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

July 5, 2018 

The hills are alive with oyster mushrooms today. Some logs are sprouting with horizontal lines of small white circles. Perhaps these are young oysters to my untrained and enthusiastic mind. Wisely consulting the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, I learned that they aren’t oyster mushrooms at all, but inedible cepes.

Farther into the woods, however, I was greeted with an unlimited feast of choice edibles and imagined offering them to great acclaim in an omelet tomorrow morning to our visiting friends. I pondered the wisdom of harvesting now and risking freshness, or harvesting tomorrow morning and risking a mycological collapse akin to my city-on-a-hill mushrooms, which are now utterly shrunk to a tangle of desiccated and dissolving caps and thread-like stems.

Meanwhile, Lily has her snout in a hole and I hurry her on, not wanting to encourage the killing of another small creature of the forest. I can’t help but bring my human morality into the woods with me, even though nature, as I am discovering, is amoral. Lily kills. Something in the woods could kill Lily — or me.

Morality, as I think about it, is about conflicting needs and demands, and choosing who or what deserves to be spared and who or what deserves to be sacrificed. In the life of the forest, we are all fair game. Neither Lily nor I deserve to be spared any more than did Lily’s ground squirrel, nor deserve to be sacrificed. We enter the forest with that understanding.

Responsibility is another question. Even though Lily is at least partially wild once she steps into the woods, I am responsible for her as well as for my own safety. I also feel responsibility to the woods and its inhabitants, including the coyotes that would eat my little dog if given the chance.

But I digress from the oysters that are climbing trees and populating fallen logs in abundance: true, plump, glistening oyster mushrooms. I filled my bag for dinner tonight, and will return tomorrow for our breakfast omelet.

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