On a brisk autumn morning in late October, I found myself on lk’wungen lands, surrounded by forest and a group of mushroom enthusiasts. The weather was beautiful; albeit chilly, the sun was shining brightly and no rain clouds could be seen. A group of around 40 people had come to the woods for a day of mushroom hunting, with the excitement and anticipation palpable as we gathered together to begin the day.
When Jaimie Isaac and I began our journey of curating the exhibition Symbiosis we knew from the beginning that we wanted to host a mushroom foray. Differing slightly from traditional foraging, the goal of a mushroom foray is not necessarily to find edible mushrooms for later consumption. The main goal of a foray is to share knowledge about fungi and to harness the potential of a group of people to collect many different species of mushrooms, and to then come back together to learn from experts and each other.
For our foray, we were very fortunate to have several different knowledge sources. We were joined by two local mycologists, Kem Luther and Andy MacKinnon, artist Diane Borsato who was a participating artist in Symbiosis, and local knowledge keeper Rick Peter, whose traditional name is Sit-a-luk, of Khowutzun. Each of these invited guests generously shared their knowledge, stories, and energy with us.
We began the day with a beautiful territory acknowledgment by Cheyenne Tinoco, who also sang the Anishinaabe Water Song, setting the tone for a rich and respectful day on the land. After introductions, everyone set off to search for mushrooms and lichens. Some stayed on the path with Kem and Andy, while others delved deep into the forest, not to be seen until the time we had set for later to meet with all of our fungal finds.
We came across boletes, jelly babies, conks, spirit gummy bears, pinecone mushrooms, and so many more. Kem and Andy barely got down the path, as they had so many stories to tell and people kept emerging from the bush with new mushrooms to share, which Kem and Andy would always delight in speaking about. When it came time to reunite back at our meeting spot, we had collectively brought together over 200 species!
Diane, who is a professor at the University of Guelph and an avid mushroomer, spent some time engaging with folks and the collected fungi. We spent hours with the different species, learning from the different experts and knowledge keepers, with everyone being absolutely transfixed on learning about these special little organisms. Rick Peter, Sit-a-Luk, generously shared his knowledge on local mushrooms, how they relate to spirit, and how we relate to one another and the land. We ended the day with his teachings, perfectly complementing the way we had opened the day hours before.
Jaimie and I were overjoyed, as our dream of hosting a mushroom foray with Diane had come true and it felt like the ideal way to close Symbiosis. The mushrooms were all returned back to the forest after the foray was over, so that they could return to the earth and continue the cycle of renewal and rebirth. It was a wonderful, frosty day, full of intrigue and excitement, and the perfect way to cap off our mycelial and boreal exhibition, Symbiosis.
Written by Mel Granley, AGGV Assistant Curator
Symbiosis ran from April 1, 2023 – October 29, 2023
Feature Image: Mel Granley finds a small fungi on a pinecone. Courtesy of the AGGV