Volunteering at the Telluride Mushroom Festival and the beauty of “nature-hunting”
Mushroom beer. Un-bolete-ably bad mushroom puns. Hundreds of people in mushroom costumes prancing down the street in a mushroom-themed parade. Drug policy discussions. Open “myc” night. Mushroom foraging expeditions. Mushroom cook-offs. Mushroom farming lectures.
Who knew there was so mush-room to love mushrooms?
Volunteering at Telluride Mushroom Festival 2017 was a phenomenal experience. One of my largest takeaways: a new sort of hobby, which I’m dubbing “nature-hunting.”
We appreciate people who are “well-rounded”: an artistic outlet, an athletic hobby, an academic focus, and a social life. But, there’s something missing. What about hobbies like mushroom-foraging or stargazing? Passionate, inspired people that are near-obsessed with an element of nature.
They fall into a different category altogether: nature-hunting.
The joy of finding something beautiful in the chaos of nature. The rush of discovery and exploration. The satisfaction from completing your collection, checking off all the Pokemon on your Pokedex. The fixation on a specific aspect of nature. And above all, a connection with nature. Nature-hunting includes a huge swath of hobbies:
- Bird watching
- Rock collecting
- Metal detecting
- Seashell collecting
- Mushroom/Plant Foraging
- Heck, even Pokemon Go’s Pokemon collecting could work!
These hobbies all encourage the participant to get outdoors and search for something unpredictable. The prizes themselves don’t matter as much as the joy of the hunt.
At the Telluride Mushroom Festival, nature-hunting manifested as festival-goers’ obsession with fungi.
We attended mushroom forays, where a group of eager mycophiles trek into the forest on a search for fungi, led by an expert mycologist.
In her book Mycophilia, Eugenia Bone analogizes the rush of the mushroom hunt — the search for this beautiful easter egg in nature — to, I’m not kidding, having an orgasm.
When you search for a mushroom, you can never fully predict where one will appear. Which makes finding a mushroom so much more rewarding — somehow, by chance, you and this mysterious mushroom encounter each other in the organized chaos of nature. As if the cosmos has aligned just so you can find this beautiful gem in the forest.
But mushroom hunting is more than just hunting. It’s a monomania, an obsession, a fascination, an overwhelming sense of awe at nature.
Monomania: exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm for or preoccupation with one thing
I could gush about mushrooms for a while, but interestingly, mushrooms aren’t the only sort of organism that have a cult following.
Take star-gazing for example. The solar eclipse is one of the most-hyped events I’ve ever seen. Astronomy-experts hold “star parties” for star gazing. Observatories can be found in almost every major city. There are tons of telescopes and binocular sites for anyone from the hobby stargazer to the expert astronomer.
Or geocaching. For those that don’t know — people hide little boxes filled with small trinkets around the world, and upload the GPS coordinates to https://www.geocaching.com/play. There could literally be treasure hiding within a mile of you as you read this article! Self-described as “the world’s largest treasure hunt,” it’s an incredibly geeky and supportive community devoted to exploring nature and scavenger hunting.
Beauty in the Chaos of Nature
Whether it’s the hunt, the collection, the obsession and fascination, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop having a nature-hunting hobby in my life. Nature-hunting seems to clearly fill a unique niche of hobbies that isn’t currently considered by most people as a part of being well-rounded.
Do you have your own nature-hunting hobbies? How have these hobbies helped inspire awe, fascination, and excitement in your life?