Autumn is the perfect time for a feast of fungi

Blickling Gold: Tracy Brighten

Autumn is my favourite time to get outdoors and go for a walk. Pick a sunny day and the backdrop of blue sky with golden trees takes your breath away. On days like this, my worries float away with the falling leaves.

When life’s stresses weigh me down, a walk in the woods puts the spring back in my step. When I’m breathing in the earthiness of a downpour or watching birds take flight, I feel alive.

When you walk in the same place, week by week or month by month, you see the cycle of the seasons. There’s comfort in knowing what’s to come. Each autumn, squirrels stash acorns in secret places and bats go into hiding. Migrant birds leave for warmer countries then return in spring to breed. When I’m close to nature, I feel more connected to life, to the natural scheme of things.

I like to walk alone, otherwise, I talk too much and miss the sights and sounds. When I’m alone, I see the bark on the trees and the beauty in thistles gone to seed. I hear the jackdaws “tchak-tchaking” as they settle in their roost. I watch the sun go down, casting shadows over the lake, quiet now since the geese honked into the night sky.

But nature is for sharing too. Sometimes, my joy is lost without anyone by my side. Photos never seem to capture the whole: the sky, the trees, the leaves, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the glorious decay. For two years, autumn has been lonely. But not this year — I’m sharing my woodland walk with my daughter!

When our children were young, swishing through autumn leaves was a favourite thing to do. But walking with my daughter, grown-up now, I can’t persuade her to swish with me. With childhood long gone, she watches with rolling eyes. But then we found the mushrooms. Such joy!

We ran like children through the woods. It was her idea. Who would find the biggest, the smallest, the prettiest, the weirdest? We tip-toed, careful not to crush these mind-blowing creations. Spores spread by the wind, they sprout between fallen leaves across the woodland floor.

Peeping from peeling bark or standing bold as brass, sharing mossy mounds or triumphant on a stump. Like fairy story heroes or ladies in hats, like shiny stones or bread rolls, larger than your foot, smaller than your thumb. Upright mushrooms, leaning mushrooms, untouched mushrooms, nibbled mushrooms. A feast for hungry squirrels.

We searched, we yelled, we bent low and snapped the mushrooms on our mobiles. Deeper into the woods we went, entranced by these fab fungi.

There’s no doubt that mushrooms are sublime, yet there’s more than meets the eye. The sporing fruit is what we see, but underground, fine threads spread far and wide in a network of mycelium. Fungi are nature’s superheroes, breaking down organic waste and recycling carbon and minerals. And they’re traders too. Through mycelium, they feed and water trees and plants and get sugar in return. Mushrooms are magic, don’t you think!

So grab your coat and camera and head off to the woods. Don’t miss autumn’s fungi feast. Take your children. Be the child yourself. Crunchy leaves, sticky mud, dewy grass, the race is on. Who can find the most magic of mushrooms? Don’t keep it a secret though — nature is for sharing!

Images by Tracy Brighten.