Walks on their own are a brilliant way of airing your lungs and getting the blood moving around the body, but sometimes it can also be fun to set a reason for your adventure… maybe some sort of ‘treasure hunt’ for a certain plant or tree. Or creating a photo collection of a certain place.
Last weekend Tony and I decided to do just that. Not very far from our house there is a small hill covered in ancient woodland and, at this time of year, where there is wood there is usually fungi! Fungus is fascinating stuff – it has been estimated that there are 2.2 – 3.8 million species of fungi on earth, most unnamed and unrecorded . In the UK alone there are 15,000 species, some endangered. I find them fascinating, not just because of their varied shapes and colours, but also be cause they are vital the the planet’s infrastructure. And so, knowing that in the past I have found some excellent examples up there – including a massive ‘Turkeytail’ – we decided to make a fungus-hunt the ‘mission’ for our walk.
Now, I am not currently the fittest of people, and so walking up and around a hill is usually something I try and get out of. After all, hills, by their nature, do have a lot of hillage! Nevertheless, armed with cameras, we both strode out on our best collective foot, and after half an hour we found…
One s*dding fungus!*
Yep, throughout the whole hour and a bit up there, only one came to our notice – and we really were looking! It was a bracket fungus, situated on a fallen tree trunk, and accessible only after tramping up a bit of a slope bedecked with nettles and brambles that were trying their hardest to trip me up. Nevertheless, a mission is a mission, so the photo was duly taken for later identification, and we carried on.
It was a gorgeous day for late autumn, and after a while, we both felt much more relaxed. Nature does that to you. It is known to reduce both cortisol (stress hormone) levels and blood pressure, and it makes you slow down too . In addition, the steep slopes had given my lungs a good workout and they felt ‘expanded’ and full of fresh air. Instead of being disappointed at the lack of fungi, we began to notice other things: old coppiced trees, trees that must have been chopped down in the past but which now had four new trunk growing out of the remains, and split-apart trunks that could have belonged in the land of Faery. There was the smell of leaf mulch and rotting crab apples, and the sound of the birds signing their autumn songs.
There were also bright jewel-like chains of berries among the dying leaves which I later identified as black bryony and belladonna – both poisonous, yet somehow full of life in the midst of forthcoming decay. We took photos of all.
By the time we got back, we felt refreshed, as if we had rebooted our systems, and full of positivity. Not only had we done our bodies a favour, we had also fed our minds and souls. As always, we asked ourselves why we didn’t do this more often? And that is a good question. Human beings need to move and use their lungs and muscles – that is how we were designed to be, and we are happiest when active. We are also healthier, much healthier, and likely to prolong our lives. So why do so many of us still sit on our backsides for most of the day, whether working at a screen or else watching TV or playing games? That is a huge problem and one that I am still trying to solve.
Anyway, there was one last payoff to the walk. When we got back it was time for supper, and what better way to round off a perfect autumn day than to have some home-made chicken soup with home-made granary bread. I must admit, we did spend the rest of the evening watching TV, but at least we felt we had gone some way to off-setting the feeling of being a couch-potato!
*Later tentatively identified as either one of the Crepidotus family or as Pleurocybella porrigens (Angel Wings).