A dry spell and a flood
In which we go back and forth between extremes
I meant this to be entirely something other than what it turned out to be. I guess I still needed to get this off my chest. Funny how thinking we’ve put something behind us doesn’t stop it from cropping up.
It had been two or three weeks since I’d been into the forest. There had been a dry spell and no mushrooms, and then a good dumping of rain, but still no mushrooms — even though I had brought my trusty bag with me. Oh, there was a bright flush of Jack o’ lanterns but nothing edible or interesting.
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That last time I was in the forest, a previously overgrown section of the path leading out from the intersection Daughter and I have dubbed “mushroom corner” had been cleared and widened. A large logging truck hunkered, parked and immobile, next to a pile of tree trunks. The sight was jarring. I’d known for weeks that the lumberjacks were working somewhere farther off in that general direction. The sounds of chainsaws and the heavy thuds of felled trees carried through the forest, everywhere and nowhere, along with the birdsong and the high-up rustling of the wind in the leaves. The sound of the machines broke the forest’s spell and introduced an unsettling, almost frightening, element to the wilderness. A vadon.
Who was down there? Where were they?
Knowing that someone else — a stranger — was nearby but not visible scraped at the edges of my enjoyment. The thuds and intermittent whine of chainsaws confirmed that I was not alone. I was in the presence of an unknown human entity, and I didn’t find it comforting or reassuring.
Oh, I can spook myself right out without any help, thank you very much. More than once, a particular tree trunk in the distance has fooled my 40-something eyesight into thinking there was a person standing farther down the path. The creaking of a tree overhead, the sound of a woodpecker, the shrieking call of a bird have all, at one time or another, set my nerves on edge. Not to mention the spiderwebs.
But there is always a patch of sunlight, a petal or leaf floating down in the green yellow light, a deep breath of the thick rich smell of the earth, a pause in the hush and stillness, to bring me back to the moment and a feeling of elation about my place in the world.
Usually, turning that first corner after the long “entrance hallway” (as I think of the straight stretch after the barrier) is like coming up from deep underwater and taking a first full breath of air. I stop in my tracks, even if for only a moment, to take in the quality of the light, to breathe in the air.
On more than one occasion, on my way to the forest, I’ve seen deer cross my path and bound off across the field. I’ve dubbed the old bunker the “deer hotel” because it is where the deer sleep and rest, well hidden among the tall grass covering the mound of that wartime relic. For that reason, it is one of Rumcajsz’s favorite spots — he can circle it and sniff for 30 minutes or more, ignoring my calls to gyere ide, to come.
The bunker is also where I put the leash back on him when returning from our walk, a precaution to avoid him taking off into the neighbouring yards and having encounters with the neighbouring dogs. He’s as keen to chase the neighbours’ horses and dogs as he is to chase deer and birds and moles.
The forest is privately owned and managed. It’s well maintained by Péter and his most adorable sidekick, Bogyó (Berry), a full-sized long-haired dachshund. Péter knows we walk there, and has told us it’s OK. We run into him from time to time, and on these chance encounters, Bogyó and Rumcajsz play together, and Péter sometimes points out various useful plants. He confirmed for me that the green russula is a nagyon finom gomba (a very tasty mushroom) and gave me the confidence to try them.
The entrance to the forest is at the end of a rutted and uneven sandy-grassy road. It has a large barrier that prevents unauthorized vehicles from entering — but does not stop people and dogs. It is not difficult to slip around the edge of it, nor is it designed to prevent wandering pedestrians from entering.
It is one of my favorite places to be — especially alone, especially in the early morning.
Well-hidden trail cams help Péter keep an eye on the comings and goings of wildlife and humans alike. On more than one occasion, he has noticed me on the trail cam and called Husband later to ask what the conditions were like. Was the road soggy? Was it passable? The hunters were interested in going in.
Once past the barrier, the road continues through the forest, branching off onto various less-used and overgrown paths, but the main road is clear and easy to follow, although for a few days after it rains, you have to carefully watch your footing. At intervals alongside the road, deep holes have been dug to collect the rainwater runoff. In places, bricks have been dumped and crushed to fill and shore up the road. Here and there, there is evidence of selective logging and cutting.
That last day in the woods, there were plump blackberries on the bush — it’s more of a towering, sprawling vine, really — just outside the forest entrance. I was with Daughter — whose job it was during the summer to walk the dog(s) every morning, at least to the first corner in the forest and back, and who unfailingly tried to get out of it, to stall, or to at least pressure me into going with her.
It was also one of the last days of summer vacation, one of Daughter’s last forced walks. The air was not hot, but the sun was, and as we left the forest, we were coming up on the hottest part of the day.
Emerging from the woods always feels dramatic, a transition between opposites. Just as entering feels like stepping across the threshold into the hush of a dim but luminescent green library, leaving feels like shedding your armor and stepping out into overpowering forces: heat, sun and wind.
Going in, I can slow down in the pleasant coolness, the close, lush embrace of the woods, the whispering of the canopy. Exiting, I am blinded by the brilliance, blown open by the wind, and made one with the dust of the road, vast as the expanse of fields. It is a minor birth into the day.
We emerged from the forest blissed out as a couple of half-filled helium balloons floating and bobbing aloft. We were in no hurry. We were tired and hungry, somewhat dreading the walk back across the long length of sandy road we call “the desert,” but on the whole, content — despite not having picked a single mushroom.
The blackberries were ripe, and I watched Daughter’s slender figure reaching for the blackest ones, how she stretched and arched gathering them. I had moved on ahead, farther toward home with both dogs. Rupert, being small and tired and more inclined toward pillows than adventure, was hanging around my ankles. Rumcajsz, being energetic and bouncy and a force of his own, was running back and forth in the field, nose to the ground — never too far away but always just out of reach.
I saw, coming towards us from down the road near the bunker, a jeep of some kind. Headlights. I stopped, trying to assess whether it was moving or not. The vehicle maneuvered visibly to the left and then steered back onto the path, and I knew it was coming towards us.
Rumcajsz never gives up the opportunity to chase something, so I focused on getting him on the leash. Rupert’s leash was with Daughter, but he’s easy to scoop up and not as interested in taking off. I got Rumcajsz hooked up and Rupert under my arm just as the truck pulled up on the road along side me. The engine shut off.
A handsome middle-aged man leaned out the driver’s side window and yelled something toward me in rapid Hungarian. I responded, “Nem beszélek magyarul” and he switched to German. I said “Nem beszélek nemetul. Angolul beszélek.” The look that crossed his face is one I’ve grown accustomed to — one of annoyance and defeat. He could manage in German, but in these parts, English is not so common. Rumcajsz was barking frantically in my ear. Daughter was still picking berries unaware, and I was holding Rupert like a football.
He continued hollering at me from the car, and I called Daughter over to bring the second leash. She began trying to translate. He was explaining that we were not allowed to be there. That this was not a road. That the dog. That the guest hunters. That the man with him was certified. That we were not allowed. Az nem egy utca. Nem, nem, semmit. We were not allowed at any time of the year, but especially not now, not in September, when there was the hunt. Never mind that it was still August.
I said, but Péter tells us igen, yes, it’s OK. He asks, Péter who? Who is Péter? Az erdész, I tell him. I don’t know Péter’s family name. The handsome hunter confers with his passenger and says, “It doesn’t matter what Péter says. Péter has nothing to say about it.” I am very confused and he is speaking an agitated mix of Hungarian and German and then demanding PLEASE in English in a condescending tone that I have heard from belligerent men before, an mix of ingratiation and threat. Meanwhile, Rumcajsz barks and barks and barks, and the men stay in the jeep on the road that is not a road, and that I am not allowed to walk on, even, it seems, with my dog on the leash.
He waits for me to agree that I will not walk there during September, as a favor to him, and so I say OK. This interaction is just another variation on a well-worn theme. The circumstances change, but the story stays the same. I can see that he is readying to put the vehicle into motion and I turn back and say Mi a neve? What is your name? Sorting out his reply takes some time. He seems to expect that his name would carry some weight with me. I don’t recognize his family name but the first name is common enough.
Daughter and I walk back, both dogs leashed. We are angry. Outraged. We are upset and confused. Daughter, convinced that all the people we know, people who have lived here their whole lives, who have told us we can walk down the road to the forest, might be mistaken, might not know that it’s not allowed. That Péter, whose Bogyó runs through the forest too, would not know what we are allowed to do in the forest he manages. That this road is not a road, despite what our eyes tell us. That our dogs will need to stay home for a month because a man in a truck said please.
I am not an ignorant or law-flouting fool. I’ve got my PAL (possession and acquisitions license for firearms) and I’ve passed the Canadian hunting course. I don’t want to be out in the fields when there’s a hunt in progress. But do any serious hunters hunt at high noon on a road? Surely that time and place is reserved for challenging one’s enemies to duels and showdowns, not for staking out bucks.
I was to believe that this road, used by lumberjacks and farmers alike, was not actually a road, and that I was not allowed on it. What’s more, the forest I had permission to enter and walk through was at the end of the road that was not a road that I was not allowed to use. So how should I access the forest? I was confused, but through this flustered shame of being (unfairly, it seemed) criticized and called out, I saw clearly that things didn’t add up.
Well, we did what you would expect. I told Husband, and he talked to our neighbors. I did a little sleuthing on social media. Husband called Péter. The intel we gathered painted a clearer picture: the hunting club counts on visiting hunters to make its money for the year. Buck season is prime-time, and the visitors don’t expect to leave empty handed. They want their buck. The club wants the income from successful visiting hunters. They try to set up the perfect, undisturbed lure so the visiting hunters do not have to spend much time in the blinds before getting the opportunity to pick one off. As Husband said, they’re not hunters. They’re snipers.
We cobbled together a plan for walking the dog that wouldn’t interfere with the hunters — keeping the dogs on a leash, not going past the bunker, not going out before 8 a.m. or after 4 p.m., and I’m on strict instructions, should I be approached again, to tell the person to call my husband. Everyone agrees, the hunter had no business talking to a woman and a young girl alone in the field, much less being so impolite.
But this, you see, was not meant to be the point of this story. I really wanted to write about mushrooms. That will have to be another post for another time.
What has become the point is that three days ago, I snuck out to the forest on my own. No dog, no child, no husband. It had rained, and I was eager to see what I could find.
The haul includes green russula (which we ate that night), a bunch of other russula that I’m unsure of eating (mostly because they might be bitter and spoil the dish, though I hear some can cause digestive upset), a couple of prince mushrooms, some oysters, some ringless honey mushrooms, some boletes (perhaps also bitter), and my first ever chanterelles. I actually squealed when I picked the first one and turned it over to look at the gills. They may be past prime. We’ll see.
That day — the day I collected that haul — one of the reasons I felt justified going in to the forest was that for the previous two days and all that morning, large tractors with bins had been driving past our house every few minutes. There was the huge machine doing the cutting and three or four tractors with immense bins hauling out the silage and returning empty. The road to the woods was a thoroughfare.
As I headed toward the forest, one of these tractors was headed toward me, a monster of a thing, a sand storm billowing behind it and blowing off to my left across the field. The driver slowed down as he approached and motioned to me to move to the non-sandstorm side of the road, next to the electric fence, which I eyeballed cautiously. Then he gave me a bit of a berth and passed at a crawl, which was very kind of him.
On my way out, the same driver was returning empty. I stopped just before the row where I knew he would turn down into the field and waited so that I would not be in his way and would not get sandblasted. To my surprise, and slight apprehension, he stopped the tractor and opened the door, calling out to me.
I didn’t immediately understand what he said, but it was something like “you’re heading back already?” (although I had been gone more than 2 hours — longer than usual). I provided my standard explanation that I speak only a little Hungarian but that I am learning, and we had a lovely if stilted exchange of polite conversation. The driver pointed to my bag and asked if I had found gombák and said that he too collects mushrooms in that forest.
It was an all-round triumphant day.
It’s been raining ever since, and so I have biiiiig plans to go back soon, grumpy buck hunters be damned.
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Beautiful photos and thought-provoking text. All round wonderful. Thank you!
A bittersweet story, but heartwarming. Keseredes tortenet, de szivet melengeto. A newest masterpiece by Kristina Drake.