By Enrique Tessieri
There is no greater joy than picking mushrooms in a near-untouched forest in fall. As you find these fungi that fruit from subterranean mycelium, the rustle of the leaves accompany you at different intervals permitting your soul to glide and rest for a moment on nature’s lap.
Like most Finns, I started picking mushrooms at a very early age. I must have been a child when I went to the forest for the first time with my grandfather Harald.
While I started to hunt on my own for mushrooms at the age of twelve or thirteen, it is difficult to say why I still enjoy it so much. Is it because of the mushrooms or were the mushrooms only a pretext to be a part of the beauty of the forest and the near-silence that glows from it?
The first types of mushrooms I started picking were the easy ones like Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) and others such as the Penny Bun Boletes (Boletus edulis). I had already learned to identify the deadly Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa).
One of the first rules when picking mushrooms is never eat any that you are not 150% familiar. While many poisonous mushrooms will make you very sick, there are only a few that are deadly like Cortinarius rebellus and Destroying Angel. If you consume the latter mushroom, you will end up needing a liver transplant.
You can Google the pictures of all these fungi I mentioned, but do not go and pick them by yourself unless you are with an experienced mushroom hunter.
Globalization has changed matters radically even in these far-flung parts of eastern Finland. Forty years ago life appeared very simple in these parts. If you lived here long before the Internet age, you had no choice but to be rural and remote unless you wanted to spend tons of money on long-distance phone calls and airplane tickets.
A simple life back then meant that you accepted to be part of the landscapes as opposed to the landscapes adapting to you today.
The only travelling I did when I visited the this part of Finland in summer was with the help of imagination and books like Zane Gray’s “The Man of the Forest.”
Even if many of Gray’s stories take place in Arizona, one can sense the same spirit that inhabits both landscapes.
He writes: “At sunset hour the forest was still, lonely, sweet, with tang of fir and spruce, blazing in gold and green; and the man who glided under the great trees seemed to blend with the colors and, disappearing, to have become part of the wild woodland.”
While it was a very long time ago since I read “The Man of the Forest,” I do remember the hero Milt Dale and a particular sentence that stayed engraved in my mind forever: The hero was different from other men that had attempted to live in the forest because they could not withstand the loneliness. Milt Dale was different.
I wanted to be like Gray’s hero when I grew up because I too sought freedom in loneliness.
Eastern Finland is dotted with thousands of lakes. It is no coincidence that the region is called the Lakelands.
When I explored the forests near our summerhouse, I became especially fascinated by lakes. This may have had to do with the fact that there were very few lakes in Southern California.
The lakes of this part of the country are like islands or enclaves on land. They are still feasts to my eyes whenever I visit them deep in the woods.
I especially liked the smaller ponds. They have for me more magic than larger bodies of water, which are vulnerable to human encroachment and which appear more conceited due to their size.
Apart from the landscapes, there were many interesting people I met in the forest during those unforgettable lazy late-afternoon summer days with my vintage bike, which took me to new adventures by the simple motion of peddling. My bicycle was like a crude version of Aladdin’s magic lamp; instead of rubbing, I peddled. The harder I peddled the more adventurous the journey became because I’d be taken to new landscapes and meet new people.
One woman I remember visiting was a farmer’s widow called Hongisto. She was so kind to me that she served coffee and cake when we met the first time. She even offered a cigarette, which I smoked at the age of thirteen.
People were very kind even if I lived in Los Angeles. All those I met never made me feel like a stranger in these parts. They accepted me even if the circumstances of time and geography had erased some of my Finnish background.
The memories from those summers are some of the dearest treasures I own to date.
By the time you read this column, it may be snowing in your part of the world.
I went on a Sunday of October to the woods near our summerhouse. The trees that inhabit that forest are mainly evergreens like firs and spruces. There are very few birches as well.
The hot and dry summer we had has had a negative impact on the mushroom season. Some of my friends told me that they had picked a lot of Penny Bun Boletes, which go for about 45 euros ($63) a kilogram in cities like Madrid.
Most of the few mushrooms I found on that overcast Sunday were Autumn Chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis). They were smaller than normal even though to ants they must appear like skyscrapers growing from the moss.
Despite the few mushrooms I found, a visit to the forest is never a disappointment. New falls will arrive and mushrooms will continue to fruit and decorate the undergrowth.