MY JOURNEY, Mid-September 2016
Determination, GPS and a few mushrooms
I am writing this up in the little cabin that I have rented for two months in Grand Marais, Minn., a wonderful little town on Lake Superior not too far from the Canadian border. There are mushrooms drying on a table in the afternoon sunlight and my muddy hiking boots are sitting by the door just waiting for the next hike.
How did I get here? Four years ago I was struggling to get through the day. My entire world and the life I thought I would be living was over because of my husband’s FTD. Those of you that follow my blog have read about my increasing interest in mushrooms this past summer. But this new passion actually started a year ago last September when I discovered a lobster mushroom. I guess it was also about that time that I stopped looking back on all I had lost and started looking forward to what my life might look like someday.
Now a year later I am a new person, a new Nancy that I am still getting get to know. I took a mushroom identification class in August. For five hours I sat spellbound, learning about some species of mushrooms that would be coming in late summer and autumn. I was armed with new knowledge and ready to get back up north to hike. It’s really weird because I am not usually a person filled with the need to learn new things. I used to be pretty happy to just spend my days drawing, using my imagination and wandering around the woods without a plan. But I am different person now and I hike with a plan. I choose a route in the forest that has certain trees where I might find the mushroom I am looking for.
In the mushroom class, I told one of the instructors about my becoming hooked last summer on trying to find the lobster mushroom. He told me the lobster is the gateway drug that gets people hooked on mushroom hunting. That’s mushroom hunters’ humor. Funny thing is that the more I have learned about the lobster mushroom, the more I realize that perhaps I am so interested in them because they remind of the FTD in my husband Barry’s brain. A lobster mushroom is a fungus that takes over other mushrooms, even ones that are not edible, and turns them into prized edible specimens. As I learned about it, I kept thinking of Barry’s brain being taken over and totally changed. The old Barry is gone and in his place is a new Barry with FTD surrounding his frontal lobe. It is just like a little white mushroom in the forest being taken over by lobster fungus that turns it brilliant orange in color, making it hard to miss as you hike in the woods.
This summer while Barry lies waiting to die but not succeeding yet, I wander the woods and make new friends. A man I met up north who also took the mushroom class came by my place with a new GPS device for me. It was a gift from him and his wife so I would stop getting lost in the woods. What nice people I am meeting this summer. The GPS device helps me find my way in the woods and trusting the new Nancy helps me find my way through this new chapter of my life.
During the class, we learned about the lion’s mane or pompom mushroom. It usually grows high in trees that are rotted or decayed. I listened carefully as the instructor told us that this mushroom has medical uses for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Too late for Barry, I thought, but not for me. I left the class and headed up north, determined to find this species.
I hiked for a few days, then by chance on a beautiful trail stopped to catch my breath and looked up. There, attached to an old rotted birch tree, were at least five bunches of the lion’s mane. I could not believe it. I shouted “YES” out loud, but I was alone except for a few crows hanging around. I found a long stick, but even by jumping up I could not reach the lowest bunch. I tried
and tried with no luck so I hiked out, hoping I could find a friend with a ladder willing to hike in. That night I lay in bed thinking about that lion’s mane and planning to hike again the next morning to see how long it takes to get to the dead tree and whether it would be possible to hike there with a ladder.
In the morning, I hiked about 45 minutes to the dead tree and realized it was too far to hike carrying a ladder. Then I discovered there was no need for a ladder when I spied a rotted tree blown down by a light wind laying on the side of the trail with most of the lion’s mane still attached. Some of the mushroom was scattered right in the middle of the trail and I was able togather a huge bag full. “What luck,” I said out loud to those crows still hanging around. It was lucky that I found the downed tree, but the success depended on my determination and taking the time to hike back there and check it out. I feel the new person I am becoming is more confident and, best of all, hopeful as I head into this new chapter of my life. Later I shared the lion’s mane mushroom as a pizza topping with some friends. It was delicious.
Today I will head out hiking again. I won’t get lost. I know what I am looking for in the forest and, best of all, I am learning that this new Nancy is going to make it after all.