Sometimes I feel as though I am in a thick fog swimming after a ship that is sailing far beyond me. Even though I am months behind, however, what I sometimes find myself doing is contrary and astray from the lists that would get me closer to that ship. Last weekend, for example, just one week before Christmas, my kitchen was transformed into a mushroom dye workshop with pots and jars everywhere. Even now, I should be writing and having closure on FisherFolk (still months later), yet off I go into the woods in a completely different direction, like the veers I take as the first mushrooms appear in August, when I find myself off in the marshy forest in my party shoes, when I should be at work. I can't seem to help it. Somehow the forest calls to me, and I am powerless to not heed its beckoning call.
As I write, just having finished cleaning up (almost) from my mushroom and lichen dye blitz, I have many tangled thoughts. In this mixed up migratory life, I feel grateful that I found myself in the right spot and the right time, when dyer friend Alissa Allen and my life converged, just when I was feeling uprooted and disconnected. Two weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to escape the office and tromp through the woods with new found friends in the beautiful down pouring rain in search of dye mushrooms followed by a full day of redwood forest mushroom dye lessons. Can it get any better than that?
In the midst of it all, I was able to see in the wild, a few of the species I had only previously seen in photographs and drawings. Woodland treasures containing the dye pigments that merge woodland with wool, two of my favorite earthly pleasures.
As one weekend merged into the next, my collections began to turn to mush, and it was time for the kitchen to be taken over. I soon found myself in a cloud of steam, lost in a sea of jars, strainers, pots and pans.
Recently, I have rekindled my interest in lichen dyeing and have been trying to reteach myself lichen taxonomy, and have been working on collecting and identifying those nearby. During the walks on the mushroom dye weekend, I found several of the same kind on downed logs and branches, and was able to brew a couple of jars of them alongside my jars of mushrooms. It is always amazing to watch the colors emerge after hours of simmering. During this process, a distinct and lasting lichen fragrance imbeds itself into the yarn, which surrounds one with a wonderful woodland scent when worn.
Thanks to my injection of inspiration from Alissa, I managed to dye over a dozen colors of a variety of yarns. If you ever are somewhere Alissa is teaching, don't miss out. She is a wealth of information, inspiration, and a sweet sweet soul.
Even though I have been mushroom dyeing for many years, I think the most important lesson I have learned from Alissa each time I take a workshop from her is how "approachable" and inventive this craft is, and the value of the woodland walks that produce the raw ingredient source. This reminds me so much of Miriam Rice, and her discoveries that brought forth so much of the mushroom dyeing we currently partake in. There is a freedom in experimentation and a wonder and possibility for something new which may or may not have been done before, plus the alteration and variation that something as simple as pH can produce.
I was thinking about mushrooms and was discussing this with my daughter Nelly. With mushrooms, versus plant collecting or berry picking, there is a hunt. They are elusive. They appear and disappear. The underlying mycelium is present, but you are never sure exactly when and where they will come up. They may come back in the exact place as they did before, or they may not.
Plants and berries are more straight forward, while mushrooms have an element of mystery and surprise to them, at least to me. There is a satisfaction and childhood excitement about finding them. And then there is the color element. You add water and heat and when it is the right one, voila, the color emerges and sometimes so brilliantly and so beautifully I can hardly contain myself.
Such is life. Some mushrooms produce brilliant color immediately, some need an environmental change for their colors to emerge. Some only emerge after long days of simmering gently, and some take months in an alkaline environment. Each pigment responds differently, yet each has its own beauty. Sometimes patience is required and other times you have to act swiftly to acquire the richest color, such as in Omphalotus where the color seems to appear, but can in a moment turn to grey. Lessons and something to be learned and appreciated from each of them, even the soft beiges that may be used to contrast the richer and deeper colors are to be valued.
SO now that I have cleared away the mushroom dyeing fallout, while I am supposed to be thinking about decorating, baking, crafting, and creating a hospitable holiday environment before it is too late, I'd really rather be knitting something with all these wonderful colors.
Think quick .. who in my family needs a mushroom dyed knit hat or scarf, cowl or maybe a sweet handknit mushroom ornament like the ones I recently spotted on instagram...and as for the house, simple festivities with heart and soul, while for the hands, I had best get knitting...like I said before, chasing after a sailing ship. Fortunately I love to swim. Hope you are all well and enjoying all the festivities the season has to offer. These are the times that offer us the opportunities to expand our hearts and minds, to see goodness and light prevail over darkness despite our circumstances , to allow that which is inherently good and useful in us to come to life as we reach out with love to those around us. Peace and love, good will to all. Thanks for listening.