Our Place in the Universe – Excerpt from Mushroom Wanderland

Excerpted from Mushroom Wanderland: A Forager’s Guide to Finding, Identifying, and Using More Than 25 Wild Fungi. Copyright (c) 2021 by Jess Starwood. Used with permission of the publisher, The Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

In the same way that mushrooms can heal and nourish us, we also know that the hunt itself can be a therapeutic process. After a traumatic divorce, I had lost my way. I found myself alone and without a support network. Only after spending days in the forest did I ask the trees for their guidance on how to navigate the tumultuous path I was on. It took time and years of wandering through these complex landscapes to find myself again. Through these dark days, I started to notice the little things in nature that begged for my attention, which prompted me to ask questions about each new thing that I encountered. It started with the plants. But quickly, I was drawn to the ephemeral quality of fungi because they pulled me deeper into the forest, again and again.

That time in the forest was healing—​whether it was my quest for mushrooms or simply the nurturing power of the forest community around me. It was the only place I found refuge, a place where I no longer felt threatened, judged, or cast out. It was a place that felt familiar, and I grew to feel connected to it.

Over the years, when sharing my interests with other mushroom hunters, I have found that many people feel the same thing I do: a sort of connectedness, or oneness, that I had never quite felt before. This seems to be a common story among mushroom enthusiasts, hunters, and foragers: we returned to the forest and came to befriend the fungi after a challenging life event or just to find our place in an ever-​changing world. It was a return to peace after straying into a disconnected, fast-​paced consumerist life in the city. But for others, it was a lifelong connection that started with family members passing down family traditions and practices.

Maybe mushrooms aren’t the magical panacea that they were once thought to be throughout history, but they do deserve attention. They offer ancient wisdom from the beginning of time and will carry on long after we’re gone. And maybe along the way, we can learn a few things from them about being connected and working with each other for a brighter future.

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