Wild mushrooms and youth afield

A colorful fungal display, eat at your own risk. Josh Akers photo.Wandering in the woods is good for walkers, and likely good for people who know walkers. Numerous studies over the past several years have credited time spent among the trees as soothing for mental injuries of rush hour traffic and high pressure deadlines.

In my experience, it’s true. Wandering the arboreal garden, eyes open wide rather than narrowly focused on finding anything specific refreshes my mind when politics and its Facebook visage have me feeling stumped.

In a recent report in Britain-based The Guardian, Forestry England, a division of that nation’s Forestry Commission, is credited with claiming two or three short jaunts in the forest can dramatically improve mental as well as physical health.

The story quoted television presenter Kate Humble who said on behalf of the commission a tree can be “the old and wise thing that isn’t going to judge you.”

Trees don’t talk back, except maybe by mental telepathy. On the other hand, even driving slowly among them is, for me, great relaxation. I slow down, and if someone behind me seems rushed, I just pull over and wave them by.

Even people met in passing often are improving their own mental health. Consider last weekend:

There were two couples – one from Washington, D.C., the other from Philadelphia – sharing a tent site for the weekend, simply enjoying being with each other and the forest.

A short way farther down the dirt road was a father donning his hunting cammies, his five-year-old son already dressed, including even his gloves, to be invisible to whatever quarry Dad might attempt to down with bow and arrow – if only, Dad noted, the youngster would be quiet. But quiet was not what the father expected for the sojourn; he said he had been bringing his son to the woods for two years, and probably would wait another few years for the younger hunter to learn the value of silence.

From the University of Pennsylvania, a group of young students on a leadership hike were spending the weekend equipped with topographic maps and backpacks the looks of which left me plumb tuckered. After a short chat, one of the leaders, asked whether I could find where they were on the map.

I drew my GPS-capable smartphone and he pulled away as though suddenly encountering a rattlesnake. “We aren’t allowed to use cell phones,” he said.

But my favorite encounter was spotting two young people more than a hundred feet from the roadway, one of them up a ladder. At first, I was not certain what they were doing, but after a short time watching, it became obvious they were cutting large fungi from the tree.

A colorful fungal display, eat at your own risk.By the time I had pulled off the road to walk toward them, Josh and his seven-year-old daughter, Paityn, were coming out with what was revealed to be about 20 pounds of edible mushrooms destined for the family table and freezer. His net bag was full of booty he called “Chicken of the Woods.”

“That’s what it tastes like too,” Josh said. “We had some this morning.”

Father and daughter had used a machete to cut the orange blobs from the broken trunk of a dead and rotting hardwood.

Mushroom hunting is best learned in the company of someone experienced in identifying the good stuff. The bad stuff, some of which looks remarkably like the good stuff, can make a body very ill, or worse.

But finding young people among the trees, especially in the company of their parents, was a royal treat – a bonus to the simple pleasure of wandering beyond the edge of the wood.

Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share. Click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.

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