Why Mushrooms?

Mushroom hunting is how I prefer to spend my days. I disappear into the woods to return with bags of fungi, my bookshelf is full of mycology books, and the toadstool emoji is always one of my “Recently Used”. Currently, I am working on a documentary about the relationship between people and mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest.  

It's an odd obsession, I suppose, but I have my reasons.  

A nerdy rec picker (me) and Thor (my homie) out looking for burn morels.  Photo: Jonathan Grigar-Dalton.

A nerdy rec picker (me) and Thor (my homie) out looking for burn morels. 

Photo: Jonathan Grigar-Dalton.

There are several environmental factors. I grew up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a wet, green place that is mushroom heaven, and my dad used to pick wild mushrooms for dinner.  He first taught me how to look for Shaggy Manes and how to pick bags of chanterelles out of the woods.

I stuff shaggy manes with pork, peppers and cheese and then fry them into poppers.

I stuff shaggy manes with pork, peppers and cheese and then fry them into poppers.

However, while these memories are certainly formative, they don’t cover the depth of my obsession. Not every kid whose family ate wild mushrooms for dinner becomes an avid mushroom hunter (although it helps). Why was mushroom hunting my favorite activity? Why not basketball? Why not stamp collecting? Why did I, or anybody for that matter, get interested in mushrooms?  

As a documentary filmmaker,  I’m always looking for the universal in specifics. I like learning about the unique ways that people live their lives and seeing what insight can be gleaned from their stories.  And there are some interesting, universal questions that can be explored within the world of mycology.

In my opinion, mycology, in its many expert and “amateur” forms, is the perfect setting to examine human curiosity.  The impetus for a mushroom obsession can be cultural, nostalgic, culinary, practical, spiritual, philosophical, academic, medical, financial, psychedelic, artistic or "other", but ultimately, I believe that all “mushroom people” are engrossed in an activity that is simultaneously a quest for understanding, a pursuit of happiness and a search for meaning.

An old friend of mine from the Olympic Peninsula, taught me about the medicinal benefits of Reishi mushrooms. 

An old friend of mine from the Olympic Peninsula, taught me about the medicinal benefits of Reishi mushrooms. 

I reached out to people whose mushroom obsessions would make mine pale in comparison: people who have written books on the topic, commercial pickers who have spent decades in the woods, PhDs in mycology, members of mycological societies, mushroom buyers, truffle hunters, gourmet cooks, and more.  My awesome friend and business partner, Sean Grasso, kindly agreed to join me on the journey and we began filming in Fall 2017. We have been blessed to have people share their stories about their time with mushrooms.  

The talented (and hardworking) Sean Grasso filming in Southern Oregon. 

The talented (and hardworking) Sean Grasso filming in Southern Oregon. 

The goal of this blog to record what I learn while making this film. I will be researching/filming all through 2018, and when the film is done in 2019 (or 2020), a lots of great stories and knowledge will end up on the cutting room floor.  

This blog provides a way to get information out there that might not make it into the final cut. It will be a mix of production diary, field guide, Pacific Northwest history lesson, cookbook, and science blog.  Anyone who has an interest in the documentary filmmaking process, mycology, or life in the Pacific Northwest will probably enjoy it.

We got to film with a legendary matsutake picker on the Oregon Coast. More about him soon.

We got to film with a legendary matsutake picker on the Oregon Coast. More about him soon.

I will spend the next few weeks updating this blog with stories from matsutake hunting in Fall 2017 and I'll write about all the great people I met out in the woods. Then, expect a lot of truffles.

Thanks for reading.

-Tristan