The Kidnapping of the Weird Mushroom

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I can't include a photo with this week's blog post because the subject matter is GONE!

To start this story I need to go back two years, to October 2009. Two full weeks past her due date, our daughter was finally born. When we came home from the hospital, our wonderful neighbor had a aluminum pan of ziti and meatballs waiting for us, and an interesting tale.

She told us that she was raking leaves one afternoon when she noticed a woman ringing our doorbell. When the woman still hadn't given up after five minutes, she went over and said, "I'm pretty sure they're at the hospital with a newborn. Can I help you?" The woman explained that there was some sort of really fantastic mushroom growing at the base of our oak tree, how she took a class on hunting mushrooms, and that she wanted our permission to pick it. Our neighbor told her she was sure we would be okay with that, so the woman took it and left.

October 2010—We're upstairs wrestling our now one-year-old into her pajamas after her bath one evening, when the doorbell starts ringing. It is pitch black outside, but I peek down from the window and in the porch light I see a woman with disheveled ashy blonde hair and an empty plastic grocery bag. Something about her hair just said "forager" to me.

"John," I hiss. "It think it might be the Mushroom Lady!" He answers the door and, indeed, the woman tells him how last year our neighbor let her pick our mushroom, and she's noticed it growing again, so can she take it now? He says sure, though he hopes she knows what she's doing. She says it is some sort of really delicious mushroom that she uses in pasta dishes—she tells him its name but he can't remember.

So all this past fall I've been waiting for the Mushroom Lady to show up again. I was hoping to chat with her myself. The mushroom sprouted just on time, though this year it grew in the lawn, about six feet from the base of the oak, instead of right up against it. It was bigger then ever, maybe eight inches tall and ten inches wide, a rough rectangle of ruffly caps with no obvious stem. I think, after looking through some mushroom websites, that it is a hen-of-the-woods.

The Mushroom Lady never came, but one recent afternoon I noticed a car idling in front of our house. People are always getting lost on our street, so I didn't think too much of it. Then an older man got out of the car, hopped over the retaining wall that keeps our yard from falling onto the sidewalk, ran up to the mushroom and picked it! With a quick glance around, he scurried back to his car, put the mushroom in the trunk and peeled off.

At first I got a chuckle out of this. The man reminded me a little of my late Grampie, with his spry movements and his khaki pants and crewneck sweatshirt. But the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I got. The Mushroom Lady had the courtesy to ask permission before coming into our yard and taking the mushroom. Mushroom Man stole it!

Personally, I would never feel confident identifying and eating a wild mushroom, because that is very tricky business and many of them can make you sick or even kill you. So I had no plans of my own for the mushroom; I was assuming it would just die down. But on the other hand, I don't like the idea of someone coming into our yard and taking something without asking. What do you think? Would you be a little irked if you were me?