Home | Short Stories | Nº 67 – Mushrooms in the Woods
An attempt to find something natural that we believed already lost

Nº 67 – Mushrooms in the Woods
An attempt to find something natural that we believed already lost

The other day I was asleep, and dreamed of waking up; however, all around me was darkness. Did I find myself in the world of a blind man or simply in a space in the universe without any light whatsoever, not even stars on the horizon? In that dream, I had lost something valuable in the forest and was looking for this… something, I didn’t even know what it was. I could sense life around me, everywhere, but I couldn’t see it. I became unsure of myself. What happens when you are in a public space where you can’t see a thing, where it’s dark and yet there is life all around you? How do I find my way around amongst all these trees? So, there I was at night in a dark forest without a watch, without a smartphone, standing still. A thought suddenly flashed across my mind: how do I overcome my fear? How do I regain my confidence? I wake up. The day has begun.

Our hike starts early in the morning and leads uphill. Mobile phones are switched off. We are entering the forest, leaving the sun behind us. Only a few sporadic rays manage to penetrate the thick vegetation. The path leads us through the woods, over clumps of moss and fallen trees. In reality, it isn’t really a path; we left that way behind us already. At some point, we’ll make a turn, and the forest will quickly swallow us up. We go slowly, almost crawling, listening with our ears, smelling with our noses. It’s musty and damp in this part of the forest where Carlos encourages our small group to activate our senses and sharpen them, to feel our way with our eyes closed. To sit down, to kneel down, to slow down, to enjoy the silence. We’re not talking much and, when we do, it’s always in hushed tones. This is all about scents: the presence of mushrooms can be smelt and felt. Cork-oaks, pines and the arbutus strawberry tree are not uncommon in this spot, being joined here and there by heather, wild flowers and shrubs. This whole forest grows wild. It has never been cut down and has always been left alone. It’s a last slice of moist nature, spared by the fires of the past years. Animals live in it. It swallows up the noises of civilisation, motor cars in particular, and opens up opportunities for unimpeded birdsong.

We dive into something that we no longer (or do not yet) know, something that is unknown to us. We become a part of the Earth, rather than rule over it. We hold on to trees, in a first attempt to find our bearings, to make friends with the forest. I hug the Monchique oak. But where am I? After a while, everybody feels like giving themselves over to the unknown, returning to their original state. Searching for a place without the use of satellite navigation, only our own sense of direction. All our senses are called into action. What do I do if I don’t know where I am? I slowly turn around in a circle. There is a small slope over there. This allows me, as a mushroom forager, to gain a kind of primal sense of the way ahead. Teams are formed, each composed of two wanderers. What do I see, what do I notice, which plants and trees do I encounter? I ask my partner. Somehow, Carlos has gone AWOL. Has he found the first chanterelles? Meanwhile, I am contemplating a death cap. Stunningly beautiful, but also exceedingly toxic. We are learning from unknown plants what comprises a habitat. Here, a parasol mushroom. Over there an Emperor’s mushroom (Amanita caesarea). Why does it grow next to a pine-tree? This is about learning to understand the flora and fauna, recognising connections and topping up our background knowledge, sharpening our senses and appreciating diversity.

Going on a hike with Carlos means experiencing ancient and eminently important knowledge. Time becomes a marginal irrelevance. We have our own special mentor with us, to identify the mushrooms and find out what their roles are – for the forest, for humans – and what they feed on. We know that mushrooms are found after a fair amount of rain, and then the sun creates the right climate for mushrooms to sprout up like, well, mushrooms. We do NOT take the mushrooms away with us. ECO123 is running two mushroom walks, on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 December, 2020. The starting time for both walks is 9am. Our meeting point is the ‘Pé da Cruz’ roundabout in Monchique. The activity is limited to ten participants and requires prior registration and written confirmation.




email: assinatura@eco123.info
Tel.: 926 600 009

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123.
Translations : Fernando Medronho & Kathleen Becker | fotografias: Dpa

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