I went to a beechwood on an autumn Monday, a wood that forms part of an estate that refreshingly is happy to welcome anyone to wander at will through the trees.
I had been here ten days ago with Peter on one of our fungi forays, having taken up a suggestion from another colleague that this wood was a good one in which to search for fungi.
We found various kinds and the day was considered a success.Toward the end of that day, tired and with concentration wavering I had casually glanced down to a tangle of leaves and grass at my feet and saw some unidentifiable fungi which looked as if they were well past their best and turning black as they rotted.
A casual glance and a dismissal. I thought no more of it.
Back at home, on consulting a guide to fungi I found an image of the supposed rotten fungi which informed me that far from rotten they were in fact a black fungus called Horn of Plenty or Trompette des morts (Trumpet of the dead).
The guidebook further informed me they are said to be occasional but where they do occur can be locally abundant and are highly prized as an edible delicacy, being found in the leaf litter of mainly beechwoods from late summer to late autumn. I resolved to return to the wood and look at them with the respect and enthusiasm that I had previously denied them, that is if I could remember where they had been in the wood.
A few days later I walked through an ancient churchyard and followed a track into the woods to be dwarfed by huge beech trees, their smooth grey trunks disappearing upwards into a counterpane of yellow and gold leaves yet to fall to earth.
A Marsh Tit called, a sharp explosive note that broke the silence and ended my reverie. I resumed my quest for the Horn of Plenty, scanning the woodland floor, my world for now diminished to a circumference of a few metres as I searched. Kicking through drifts of leaves and thin trailing bramble shoots that creep across the ground to catch at your legs and trip you, finally I found what I was looking for. Black with maybe a tinge of midnight blue they looked as I had remembered them, an impression they were long past their best, rotting and slowly returning to the earth from which they had risen. Now I knew better.
The sense of achievement and delight at finding them was palpable and I went on my way with a lightness of heart at having discovered another of nature's inconsequential treasures.
I deplore the popular trend these days to forage for fungi. At a number of woods to which I go, you now often encounter people with plastic bags stuffed full of fungi, far more than is necessary. I was glad my Horns of Plenty had escaped notice and remained to live out their natural cycle.