It's Lowell's Turn: Hunting for nature
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
I guess hunting and collecting are just in my blood.
I’ve always loved being outdoors surrounded by nature. Some of my earliest and best memories are going hunting and fishing with my dad; collecting rocks, snakes, frogs and other critters with my cousin; or exploring the outdoors with my best friend. Later on, while other kids were playing sports and getting involved in other activities during high school, I just wanted to go home so I could go hunting or trapping.
Although I don’t do much regular hunting anymore, I’m still involved in hunting and collecting in other forms.
As a photographer, I’m basically hunting for something every time I go out to take pictures. Just like with hunting, a photographer has to plan ahead, spend time in certain locations, and have specialized skills. As with hunting, sometimes you get what you are aiming at, and sometimes you get nothing. Of course, the best type of camera hunting for me is still outdoors with nature as my subject. And, just like with regular hunting, the real reward is not so much in finding what you’re looking for, but in just being outside surrounded by nature.
However, in the last few years, I’ve been enjoying another type of hunting. I’ve been searching for and collecting edible wild mushrooms. Once again, mushroom hunting seems to fill a desire I have to get out in nature, walk, explore, learn and collect. As an added benefit, you get to eat some of what you find.
I think the eating part is what makes mushroom hunting so interesting and intriguing, because you really have to be careful and make sure you have the right identification. Some mushrooms can have frightening and even lethal side effects and you don’t want to eat one of those by accident. But although some mushrooms may be tricky to identify, others are fairly foolproof, as long as you know what you are doing. Those are the ones I’ve tried to focus on.
The last couple of years, I mostly collected chicken of the woods (sulfur shelf) and hen of the woods (maitake). This year I added a few more, including morels, oysters, hedgehogs, lobsters and chanterelles. The chanterelles were a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t really expecting to find them and there turned out to be quite a few for several weeks.
And mushrooms and fungi are just plain interesting. They seem to pop up out of nowhere, sometimes overnight, and have an almost unlimited variety of colors, shapes and sizes. They also have many medicinal properties and taste great. I like to joke that mushrooms are my favorite thing to eat that isn’t a plant or an animal. Mushrooms and fungi belong to their own kingdom and some scientists claim that they are more closely related to animals than to plants.
In fact, what we call a mushroom is only the fruiting body of an organism that is mostly unseen and consists of webs of fine threads of mycelium that are usually underground or in dead or dying trees. What we call a mushroom could be compared to the fruit on a tree.
Another interesting thing about fungi and mycelium is that although they are sometimes parasitic, they often have symbiotic relationships with trees and may even allow them to be interconnected and “communicate” with each other — kind of like a plant internet. That’s something to think about while you are hunting.
However, more often than not, I’m not really thinking of anything when I’m looking for mushrooms. It’s almost like a form of meditation, just enjoying being in the woods and seeing everything, but not doing too much thinking.
I shouldn’t need an excuse, but hunting for mushrooms (or photographs) gives me a reason to spend time outdoors wandering around and exploring nature. Having a purpose, means that I probably spend more time out there than I would otherwise. And spending more time outdoors is always a good thing.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.