Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
The Mushroom Hunter: A Letter To My Father
by David Kashimba
I can no longer go fishing with you, yet when I go fishing, you are with me. I can still see you pointing to the watery depths where the big ones are.
I can no longer go mushroom hunting with you, but I'll never forget what you taught me. How the mushroom is only the fruit of a vast network of life beneath the ground which feeds on the dead leaves or decaying branches of white birch trees. I became fascinated by this fungus that turned death into life.
I remember how we walked by a bed of red, orange and yellow leaves under a small forest of well-spaced birch trees. Birds chirped and fluttered from one branch to another. You crouched down and surveyed the area. "There," you finally said pointing under a tree. "Do you see it?"
You crawled under the birch tree and brushed away the leaves weighing down the mushroom's brownish red top. I remember a musty odor as you cut the mushroom's stem at the base with your pocketknife. "I do it this way so the underground life won't be disturbed. If it rains tonight we can come back to this same spot tomorrow morning and find new mushrooms."
"This is a red topper," you said holding the mushroom in a patch of sunlight. "It's the most prized mushroom that grows in Pennsylvania, the firmest and best tasting."
I remember looking at your hands—the fingers swollen and rough from a life of hard work. Then I looked at the mushroom. The red topper glowed like a flame in the sunlight but was cool and moist to the touch. Like a priest offering a gold chalice at the altar, you offered the mushroom to the light as though this moist flame might cool the burning fires of the summer sun.
David Kashimba lives in Sonoma County, CA, where he can work in his garden and swim in the Russian River every day in the summer.
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