The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning

Long Litt Woon

The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning
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The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning

Long Litt Woon

‘As the world of mushrooms opened up to me I began to see that the path back to life was easier than I had thought. It was simply a matter of gathering delights that flash and sparkle. All I had to do was follow the mushroom trail, even though I still didn’t know where it would lead. What would I find in the great unknown that lay ahead of me? What lay beyond those hilltops and mists and turns in the road?‘

When Long Litt Woon loses her husband of 32 years to an unexpected death, she is utterly bereft. An immigrant in his country, in losing the love of her life she has also lost her compass and her passport to society. For a time, she is stuck, aimless, disoriented. It is only when she wanders off deep into the woods with mushroom hunters and is taught there how to see clearly what is all around her, and learn how to make distinctions, take educated risks and hear all the different melodies in Nature’s chorus, that she returns to life and to living. And it is mushrooms which guide her back. In this book, she describes how they saved her, and how they might save you.

Review

Long Litt Woon enrols in a ‘mushrooming for beginners’ course in her home city of Oslo. She’s looking for ways through her crippling grief after her husband’s sudden death, not realising she is about to uncover her new hobby, one which will reshape her life.

The Way Through the Woods is a story of Long’s discoveries and recovery, as well as a book about the role of mushrooms in Norwegian communities and culture. It also includes recipes, notes for identification and recounts narratives of the people in the Norwegian mushrooming scene. I was drawn to this book because of my own interests (and hobbies) in the endlessly fascinating world of relationships between humans and micro-organisms in the kitchen and garden, and I suspect many more readers who share my love of growing and making things will be drawn to it too.

Long’s book is just as much for readers of natural and cultural history as armchair gastronomers, as she explores and then shares the science of fungi, their roles in forests and soil and the ways they underpin all life on earth. As Long starts to see and appreciate the threads connecting history, food, science and ecology, she also finds her way back to herself and connects with a new community. Long shares stories of her ‘mushroom buddies’: these unlikely friends, met through their shared hobby, gradually reveal knowledge and secret mushroom spots to her. I was struck by how secretive and territorial the Oslo mushroom hunters appear here – I didn’t realise how seriously this pursuit is taken. Exams are required to become a qualified inspector, and there is a standard practice of having all hauls checked over by one of these professionals. The Way Through the Woods will make a lovely gift for the curious bushwalker, recently bereaved person, or even the niche hobbyist in your life.


George Delaney is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids.

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