The Online Journal of Writer Kate Sykes
People ask me why I spend so much time outdoors traipsing through the woods with a fishing pole and a mushroom knife.
“You’re always on the go,” they say. “Aren’t you exhausted?
I tell them trout season is short and mushroom picking is a race against the worms.
This weekend we camped for two nights in the Adirondacks. Intermittent downpours kept us huddled under a tarp for long stretches. When the weather cleared, we took the canoe out and fished for bass and did day-hikes through pine forests looking for chantarelles.
On the way to a remote pond near Lake Durant, I found a dying tree with dozens of oyster mushrooms blooming high up on the trunk. Since I couldn’t reach them, I spent a few minutes photographing them instead. With the sun shining through the caps from above, I could make out the dark bodies of insects trapped between the gills.
The oyster mushroom is also known to ensnares nematodes, the tiny worms that feed on fungi and are the bane of edible mushroom hunters. How disappointing it is to spy the fresh pink cap of what looks like a healthy young chrome foot bolete only to cut it open to find a honeycomb of wormholes.
Oyster mushrooms aren’t as susceptible to worms as other types of mushrooms. They’ve evolved to meet the problem head-on. They envelop the invader and feed on the nitrogen from its decomposing body.
Death is everywhere in the forest. It’s in the gaping mouth of the bass that swallows your popper like there’s no tomorrow. It’s in the sepulchral chill of a low-lying stream bed. It’s in the mineral scent of moss, and the darkness of an impenetrable evergreen thicket. It wakes you in the night to thunder.
Civilization lets us push oblivion from our minds. Nature calls us to accept death as a part of the deal, to incorporate it into how we live.
The woods remind you that you’re not here to stay, and when you’re gone, the rain will be indifferent. The woods never let you forget that the worms will win in the end.