Editor’s Note: This is the sixth post in the Environmental Histories of Foraging series edited by Nicole Miller. You can read other posts in this series here.
In late August, after finishing my anthropology coursework in Leuven, Belgium, I packed my bags and took a flight to catch part of the mushroom season in southern Finland. When the plane was hovering over Helsinki’s Vantta airport, I looked through the tiny porthole. It revealed a mass of different layers of green: olive, lime, jade, emerald. During this very first encounter, I did not know that below the surface of these forest waves was another hidden world, an autonomous kingdom, and an assemblage of birches, pines, spruces, bushes, mosses, fungi, and species beyond my limited vocabulary and imagination.
I am interested in human/non-human relationships, and I became intrigued by how people could encounter, embrace, and communicate with nature beyond the domain of human language. Foraging was the starting point I chose for this multispecies adventure. Looking back, it was more than a journey of learning to forage and identify mushrooms; rather, it was also a process of learning about oneself and one’s own body. When gradually discovering how to balance myself on the uneven forest ground, when listening to the howling sound of wind in the dense forests, and when touching and feeling different textures of various fungal species, my senses were opened, sharpened, and connected to the world of forest fairies, where they gently revealed themselves and taught the innocent human apprentice what a mushroom knows.
I started my research with a local mushroom guide, Anna Nyman, and my friend Lau Kaker, who is an artist working with mushroom dyes. My foraging practices were mainly conducted in the forests near Luukki, Lakisto, Nuuksio in Espoo, and I also frequently explored the urban forests in my temporary neighborhood of Pihlajamäki during my four month stay in Finland. The following is a sensory journal of my experiences foraging mushrooms.
When foraging for mushrooms, one needs to bend down and lower their body to gain a new perspective. This perspective is not a human one, but a mushroom perspective. By doing so, a forager tries to enter the world of fungi, observing the forests from their viewpoints, staying with them, and thinking with them. The change in perspective can be understood both physically and epistemologically. During my foraging excursions, I not only learned to adjust my view to match the mushroom’s perspective, but also to reposition myself in relation to nature – not as an exploiter, a tourist, or an invader, but as a companion, a collaborator and an apprentice with great appreciation and respect.
Note: The content of this series should not be taken as advice for edible or medicinal uses of specific species. We do not advise consuming the species discussed. Incorrect identification of species and incorrect preparations can be toxic and sometimes deadly. Foraging should be done only with adequate education, instruction, and caution. If you are interested in foraging it is highly advised for safety (and to gain experience) that you should take a course with an expert if you would like to learn more.
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