No, not THAT kind of mushroom. And not that kind of magic.
I recently undertook a cool, moist (read: cold, rainy, and uncomfortable) hike on the Oregon coast that was made magical by the presence of mushrooms. Squishing my way along five miles of soggy pine duff, I was treated to full-frontal views of at least three dozen distinctly different types of mushrooms. Physical discomfort dropped away as I cast my eyes ahead along the margins of the trail for the next adventure in form and color. The hike made me realize that, even for those of us who are not interested in the hallucinogenic properties of certain infamous mushrooms, these quirky, colorful fungi incite a certain enchantment.
Mushrooms are symbols of good luck in Germany and Austria; finding one in the forest is a harbinger of fortune. A mushroom known as the Maitake takes its name from the Japanese for "dancing mushroom" because it is said that foragers danced with joy when they found it. Did this legend inspire the dancing mushrooms of Disney's Fantasia? Mushrooms growing in a circular formation are known as "fairy rings;" these rings are said to be the site of supernatural dance parties as well.
I've carted chantarelles, morels, shiitakes, porcinis, and enokis home from many a market. (OK, I know enough to know that morels and porcinis aren't true mushrooms, but they're close enough for me, and they taste great.) One of my saddest culinary adventures was returning from Mercato Centrale (the central market) in Florence, Italy, to my rented farmhouse to discover that my porcini were crawling with tiny, white worms. Disgusting? Yes, but I was more disappointed than grossed out -- I had been looking forward to lunch!
Mushrooms On The Coast
My five-mile, October trek in the rain in the coastal foothills above the rugged beaches of the central Oregon Coast gave me a whole new opportunity to appreciate mushrooms and related fungi. I saw yellow, orange, red, tan, brown, black, white, and burgundy-colored specimens. At one point, I mentally cataloged the variety of colors I had seen and, comparing them to a rainbow, thought idly, "I've seen everything but green." This was, in retrospect, not strictly true, as I recall no blue or violet species either. But moments after thinking this, I saw a green mushroom. Whether it was mantled with a veneer of moss I do not know, but it was green.
And shapes! Upturned cups, round-as-a-golf-ball, brain-like, elongated trumpet, shelves and brackets, seaweed-delicate -- in sizes from pea to cantaloupe. They came singly, clustered, and stacked like flapjacks.
Sally O'Neal Coates contributes weekly to sportsmansguide.com. Her books include "Great Bike Rides in Eastern Washington and Oregon."