ghost pipe, chanterelles, & snails

There is always something in the air in the forest.

There was something especially in the air in the forest this evening. Something slipped through my pores and stuck to my skin like sticky seed burrs. The slip-slide-splat of mud; the schmuck of boots on damp leaves; the gentle pushback of moss on the woodland ground; the lively wiggles of a snail on a chanterelle; the petrichor smell of raindrops plopping on foreheads looking up through the canopy.

Maybe it’s that I’ve been exhausted all day, from lack of sleep and stress. Maybe it’s that for the past 24 hours I’ve barely consumed a vegetable; I’ve subsisted on sauteed pierogis and a bag of tortilla chips, my stomach rebelling against the lack of non-beige foods. But something in the woods today hit a reset on me. I still feel bloated and tired and maybe a little sad, but there’s an air of hope that wasn’t there before my two-hour foraging and identification foray.

I’ve only just met chanterelle mushrooms by name for the first time today. Upon picking one I was greeted by an old friend – a little snail.

I love their near-translucent shells, their little slurping movements, the way they can retract a full antenna like it was never there. A form of life so different from our own! And a wonderful reminder of un-expectation all around us.

A tiny snail monching on a chanterelle mushroom in the woods
A tiny snail monching on a chanterelle mushroom in the woods

I have no photos of this other new friend, but it struck some sort of chord with me: ghost pipe, or Monotropa uniflora. In the pale blue light of an evening forest you can imagine the eeriness of a near-clear white, bell-shaped parasite emerging among the detritus. It feels like the fleshy cartilage of your ear, and it pokes out from the wet woodland network like a spirit. This is the kind of thing that wakes me from thoughts that I may be imaging a world all my own – I could never have come up with something like this.

It is the sensations of the forest that are the “something.” The giggling shock of reaching down for a mushroom and landing on a slimy slug; ethereal ghost pipe floating up from the see of greens and browns in your eyes; the uplifting tang of petrichor as it starts to storm. Every forest bath is an experience like little else in a modern day.

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