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I spotted it on the way to church and snapped it on my phone. We were running late and I don’t think my husband and son appreciated the detour. I couldn’t help it. The bright red colour caught my eye.

It was a toadstool. Amanita muscaria to be precise. It’s an iconic mushroom species noted for its poisonous and hallucinogenic properties.

They say it attracts flies and was known for inducing delirium and madness. I just loved the colour, which I enhanced with an edit on my phone. I haven’t seen anything like it since.

Native to conifer and deciduous forests in the Northern Hemisphere, the Amanita muscaria can also be found around the Mediterranean and Central America. They say it had its ancestral home around Siberia, before it started moving outwards to Asia, Europe and North America.

And here it was, transported to the southern hemisphere. Fruiting in Chatswood, near our Presbyterian church. Delighting me and exasperating my husband and son.

“Come on mum! Stop taking photos,” my son laments. “We’re laaaaaaate!”

Years later, we are with my parents-in-law in Melbourne. We’re about to get ready for my niece and brother-in-law’s combined birthday party. We have a bit of time. I see a writing prompt and am inspired to write.

“Can you write about a mushroom?” my father-in-law asks.

“I can try,” I reply.

“Mushrooms have been coming up near our place. It must be the recent rain,” my mother-in-law adds.

I enjoy our time together. We see my in-laws so rarely, it is lovely to be in their company.

They have spent more than 50 years married to each other. They worked hard, raised two children, and are now relaxing in their retirement years.

My father-in-law is a migrant too. He came to this country in the 60s when Australia was looking for more people to feed its booming industry. He met my mother-in-law, spent ten pounds on a ship fare to Australia, and his journey to make this place home began.

“Hey! What do you think about mushrooms?” I ask my husband who walked into the room, all dressed up for the party.

“I don’t think about mushrooms,” he responds.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t. They’re a fungus.”

Silly man. They’re more than a fungus. They have a history and come with their own folklore. I hear some experts believe the red toadstool was used as a hallucinogenic by northern European shamans. Some speculate ancient warriors may have ingested them before battle. And be careful if a circle of them spring up after the rain. Step in it and you may be whisked away forever to another world.

Of course, some non-poisonous, non-hallucinogenic mushrooms are also delicious cooked or pickled.


Via the Daily Prompt: Mushroom

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November 2017
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