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13 Dec 2019 18:23
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  •   Home > News > International

    'I was saved by mushrooms': Long Litt Woon's unlikely rescue from grief

    The sudden death of her husband plunged Long Litt Woon into grief. She was "in chaos, in a huge mess" — but when she started to learn about mushroom foraging, a "new world opened".


    When Long Litt Woon's husband died suddenly, she was plunged into grief.

    Suggestions for help arrived from all directions, but something unlikely eventually helped her sadness start to shift — a beginner's course in mushroom foraging.

    "This was the first time I felt joy after my husband died, so I knew then that this was what I needed to concentrate on," Long tells RN's Life Matters.

    "It was wonderful to go where the mushrooms took me. A new world just opened itself to me.

    "I like to say that I was saved by the mushrooms."

    'Hooked' on hunting mushrooms

    Long, an anthropologist, says she first confronted her grief in a manner particular to her profession.

    "When you are in this anthropological fieldwork, one tries to make sense of a foreign world, foreign tribe, foreign culture," she says.

    Now her subject was grief — and she was being forced to learn about it.

    "I call it fieldwork of the heart — my heart — what was happening with me," says Long, who has written about her experience in The Way through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning.

    "Because it was certainly not something I had experienced before and I was in chaos, in a huge mess, and I was just trying to understand what was happening."

    While she searched for meaning, she tried yoga and meditation — but the course in mushroom foraging was what helped calm the chaos.

    "I definitely got hooked on mushrooms very quickly," Long says.

    Being out in nature helped a lot, as did learning new things, and making friends with the "absolutely fascinating" fellow mushroomers she met.

    Foraging also provided an antidote to a regimented lifestyle.

    "My world was a very planned world, a very structured world. I had meetings and I had deadlines," Long says.

    The quest for mushrooms observes no such pace or pattern.

    "When you hunt for mushrooms, you cannot guarantee that they are there," Long says.

    "Even though you have a secret spot and you know where to go, they might still not be there.

    "Everything needs to be aligned: the temperature, the weather, the rainfall. And when the stars are aligned, then the mushrooms will be there, waiting for you.

    "That's completely different from my other life."

    Mushrooms are 'part of life and death'

    Long, who is now a certified mushroom expert in Norway, can identify at least 150 kinds of mushrooms.

    While she says there are very few poisonous mushrooms in her part of the world, her advice for anyone foraging for them is: "You need to know what you're doing."

    "Knowledge is very important," she says.

    "People are afraid of mushrooms, and rightly so because there are really dangerous mushrooms out there."

    But in learning about mushrooms, Long hasn't just gained the ability to distinguish the dangerous from the edible.

    Mushrooms have offered Long a new way of making sense of the world.

    "First, in the evolution of life on Earth, mushrooms are closer to us than plants, so that is in itself an amazing fungi fact," she says.

    "But the other thing is that life on Earth is very dependent on mushrooms too, on fungi, because of the relationship between mushrooms and trees.

    "Without mushrooms, no trees. Without trees; no mushrooms. They are dependent on each other."

    Long says she's learnt that mushrooms are "part of life and death".

    "We need fungi to help in the whole life cycle of plant life, of organic matter on Earth, because they help in the whole decaying process," she says.

    "Some mushroom people like to say, 'no fungi, no life'. We are completely dependent on them."

    Long says mushrooming has given her "three Ps": pleasure, purpose and something to be proud of.

    "And peace too," she says, adding a fourth.

    She says some time after her husband's death she had the realisation she was going to be OK, which came in the form of a "physical experience".

    "This grief that had weighed down on my shoulders, it just suddenly lifted," she says.

    "It was a great feeling. I was very happy that I finally came out of this tunnel."

    Warning: Some mushrooms found in Australia can cause illness or death if eaten. Some deadly mushrooms look very similar to edible mushrooms. The Australian Food Safety Information Council recommends only eating store-bought mushrooms.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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