The mushroom hunt wasn’t quite as exciting for me as picking the fruit had been. At least with the fruit, I’d had an assignment—holding the basket. I quickly discovered that I was limited in my ability to contribute with collecting mushrooms. We started off into the forest, further away from the tea trees, and Colleen’s aunt and sister quickly spotted two patches of mushrooms that were plucked up and tossed into the basket. I thought that if they found them so quickly, it should be easy to find more. Everyone acted so excited at the find, too, that I caught the enthusiasm and joined them in running around through the forest, stooped over and with my eyes glued to the ground for any little glimpse of mushrooms. I felt like I was part of an ultimate Easter egg challenge…and I was losing.
It didn’t take long before we’d thoroughly covered the section of forest closest to the bottom of the slope, the very edge of the forest, and Colleen told me they’d need to go further into the forest to look in some less exposed areas off the foot paths. She said it would be best if we let her aunt, sister, and the oldest boy go do that, and the rest of us could stay and continue looking around there. I knew without her saying it that they were afraid I would get lost, hurt, bit by something, fall, get scratched by the brush, or any number of other things they didn’t want to have to deal with.
The aunt’s three-year-old son stayed with us, and we let him entertain us by counting as many large fuzzy caterpillars as he could find. Colleen would pluck them off the trees and give them to him to play with. I was still determined to find just one mushroom to contribute to lunch and kicked aside leaves and sticks in my efforts. I did finally find one rather large white and grey mushroom and called Colleen over to display my discovery, only to have her say, “You can’t eat that kind.” It looked exactly like the other mushrooms to me.
Once the basket was full, the others returned, and we headed back out towards their house. The aunt took the mushrooms home to begin preparing our late lunch, including a chicken which she killed for our visit, and Colleen and the boys took us to visit the village temple, by far the largest building in the village and home to three monks. We wandered around the premises, mostly admiring the fruit and flower trees towering over us. Two large plumeria trees were in bloom, and Colleen and I gathered their flowers off the ground, sticking them over our ears and in our hair, and bundling them up to take back to her grandparents. Her cousins scurried up a massive jackfruit tree, thumping each of the huge, basketball-sized fruits to see if any were ripe.
Truly, I have never seen such a great number and diversity of fruit trees outside of a botanical garden. It seemed that no two trees were alike, and each was substantially taller than varieties I’d seen in other places, meaning the forest must be quite old. I continued to be overwhelmed throughout the day with the knowledge of where exactly I was, how remote a village and forest I was in, how very little contact the people here have with the outside world.