Do You Know the Mushroom Man?
As many of you know there is more than just Sarah working here at Fern & Fungi. There are even a few who have maybe seen rare photos of this elusive creature. But only a handful truly know who I am... yet.
Born and raised in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) I was lucky to have been able to experience city life and the country. From very young I was in scouting, and often went camping with my parents and younger brother. When I was about 6 years old my parents joined the Mycological Society of Toronto. I remember my dad phoning in to the hotline (this is pre-internet folks) to find out when, and where the next foray would be. I always laughed as the automated message came on “This is HI-FUN-GI if you want information...”
Soon enough we would drive out into the greenbelt of Ontario on some cool damp morning, wandering out from a parking lot with a dozen enthusiastic mycophiles. The magic of finding this alien, often colourful growth, sprouting from all different places, was enthralling.
As it often happens I got older, and as that happened my interests became broader, and mycology in itself fell by the way side. Through high school and college I was gearing up to go into the military, or the police. Still loving the outdoors, but feeling the pressure of a “conventional” job and life. Finally after years of various security gigs, floating from city to city, I landed my government job and worked as a youth services officer. After a short and brutal term I found myself anxious and alienated with the “city life” and fled to the Ottawa Valley.
I can’t say enough about the folks here in the Ottawa Valley. They provided the tight knit community that I desired coupled with the space and solitude required to relax. Coming here I originally wanted to make a little money and pursue one of my other passions: beekeeping. I however was ensnared by the most common hurdle here in rural Ontario: there is little to no work and it takes hustle just to make ends meet.
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About a year ago now I had a mid-mid-life crisis, and stopped working, considered becoming a Buddhist monk (which is still not off the table) and began to consider what in life makes me happy. During this time I would often meditate and walk through the many forests in the area, taking in the simplicity and beauty of the world out here. Like a mushroom coming forth from its primordial state, I began to remember my love of lurking through loamy forests and venturing through dell and dale.
My neighbour Peter from Monteagle Herbs asked me one day if I had found any Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) while out on my wanders, and that he would pay me to harvest herbs in bulk for him. It was at this moment I started to realize that the beauty and solitude I craved from nature could actually produce a bounty of food and medicine, and that if I learned to hone my passion I could maybe scrape by as forager. After a few months in the sweltering, bug-ridden cedars and bogs of the Valley, and nothing to show for it but insect bites, I began to realize why foraging is actually work! It’s not always ideal weather and you don’t always find what you set out for. It was worth it, for me at least, because I revel in the primal beauty of the elements and watching a natural ecosystem flourish and develop before my eyes. Yes, even the mosquitoes.
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A few months ago the lovely Sarah Lawless found me and my horde of dried mushrooms (mostly chaga and turkey tail) and herbs. Despite it being winter, and my hibernation season, she offered me the opportunity to apprentice as forager and herbalist, and learn the various and sundry ways of her business --an offer I couldn't refuse. So here I am.
Now as the spring slowly thaws us out, and morel season rapidly approaches, Sarah and I plan for the year ahead. I hope to be bringing both wild and cultivated medicinal and culinary mushrooms to the table by sometime around midyear, and ramping up into the future. I will be continuing my tutelage on many things herbal under Sarah, and hope that I can keep providing good medicine and good food, to all you good folk into the future.
See you in the woods,