Since as long as I can remember I have been mushroom hunting with my grandfather. We hardly ever talked, except to indicate a good find. Over the years I walked in his steps, learned to memorise his secret spots (where mushrooms would appear without a fail) hidden under and around rocks, some of these hideaways only known to the two of us. The only talk taking place was that of mushrooms, to examine specimens and to indicate a good find.
Granddad thought me patiently which mushrooms would be the ones to collect, which ones were good for cooking, drying or pickling, which were edible, which were bitter and or course the few poisonous ones. He would note that I missed a particular mushroom hiding place, the one that was hard to spot, under a stone, close to a particular landmark that only granddad seemed to recognise. I am sure he secretly enjoyed that his memory map of the mushroom growing places was far better than mine.
I learned to face my fear of adders (there were many encounters), of getting lost, granddad at my side I knew I was safe. I also learned to like the taste of mushrooms, although this was a long time in the making.. for years I used to refuse to eat any.
The mushrooms hunts became a yearly ritual that I eagerly waited for. For me, the forest became an escape form the large city I inhabited, London. For granddad, I suspected, the walks in the forest acted as time alone, but also continuation of tradition, as he as a boy had been to mushroom hunt with his mother. As I continued to walk same trails that I know granddad and before that my great grandmother had walked, gave me a sense of belonging.
When I interviewed granddad about the mushroom hunts, grandma interrupted the conversation (as she often did) to site an amusing story of granddads mom, her mother in law, finding so many lingonberries that she run out of space to store them and my great grandmother had stuffed the lingonberries in her underwear! Grandma said she did not eat those lingonberries.
For granddad the forest and mushroom hunts were about exercise, he said, and to be able to preserve the mushrooms for winter, but mostly about the hunt, the excitement and thrill of finding mushrooms.
It is the thrill of the hunt that I too was hooked on from early on. They were well hidden, invisible among the autumn leaves that had paved the forest floor. Timeless times I got excited to find a bright yellow mushroom to get disappointed discovering it was only an autumnal leave. The hunt gets you hooked, you want to go a little further, in case you will find some more. We would spend hours walking the forest, often cycling to different part of the forest, granddad cycling like a maniac, never using a break going downhill. As in the forest, I followed him, cycling more cautiously.
Towards his later years, our adventurous walks would get shorter. It used to be me in the outskirts viewing granddad disappear in the distance, trying to keep up. Now it was I in the forest picking the mushrooms, granddad in the road walking with a walking frame, roles reserved.
Many of our mushroom hunting grounds disappeared, woods were cut down, trees sold, the ecosystem changed, no longer mushrooms growing.
The mushroom hunts were about mushrooms, the hunt, the forest, the walks, no words exchanged unless about mushrooms, But somehow this felt the most intimate of relationships, between a granddaughter and a grandfather. Perhaps words are not always needed.