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  • American poet Robert Bly wrote a poem called "The Mushroom." The poem begins with a description of the mushroom, but by the third stanza, the poet veers away from the literal and says "The mushroom has a traveller's face. We know there are men and women in Old People's Homes whose souls prepare now for a trip, which will also be a marriage."

    Before my great aunt died, when she was still relatively well although bedridden, she and my aunt who looked after her, would cheer themselves up by talking about the next time they would go mushroom hunting together in the Rockies. The mushroom they were talking about was the matsutake or pine mushroom -- a much sought-after delicacy in Japan that has never been successfully commercially cultivated there. It has always been a wild mushroom that grows in mountainous pine-forested terrain both in Japan and in North America. The North American variant is white with faint brown markings on its cap and stem. It exudes a cinnamony pine like fragrance. The mushrooms are usually found under a hump or hummocks of fallen pine leaves that appear like little mounds. When you peel back this pine layer, you’ll find the ethereally white mushroom glowing underneath it like treasure.

    For years while my Dad was alive, our family including my great aunt and aunt would make annual trips out to the Rockies to harvest these mushrooms. My great aunt and my aunt just loved these trips and well after my father had passed away, the two of them continued with their forays into the mountains to collect matsutake. They often took visiting relatives from Japan with them much to the visitors’ delight. Experiencing the spectacular Canadian Rocky mountain setting while eating the wild delicacy was the best way to enjoy what the country had to offer.

    While my great aunt lay dying with her small shrunken head on the pillow, I thought of Bly’s line – “the mushroom has a traveller’s face.” With each breath, I could tell my aunt was on a journey into the deep dark woods of the mountains of her country to find that elusive treasure that is marriage – her union with the Beloved.
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