It’s rained for the better part of a month, and the woods are wild with fungi. We’ve been been eating like kings: maitake, chicken mushrooms and giant puffballs. But some of the inedible mushrooms are eye-catching, too, and so plentiful they can even cover a trail blaze, threatening to replace our way-making with their own.
Ever since traveling the old pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela with my family as a kid, I’ve had trouble disassociating shelf fungi from the ubiquitous scallop shells emblematic of St. James. You don’t have to look far in the damp forest for ersatz baptismal fonts seething with mosquito larvae. Yet spring, not fall, is the pilgrimage season, according to Chaucer.
Then there are the woodland puffballs, ready to disgorge their fertile smoke, waiting like penitents for the tread of paw or hoof,
or even the brush of a raptor’s wing. Any ridgetop forest as full of squirrels as ours makes a welcoming hostel for migrating hawks.
Gone are the spined micrathena spiders of July and August. Only the occasional marbled orb weaver stretches a web across the trails now, its orange abdomen almost camouflaged against the autumn leaves as it winds its silk road into a labyrinth.