Country diary: porcelain fungi light the dark like a splash of milk
Drumlanrig, Dumfries and Galloway: A carpet of mushrooms covers earth rich with the rot of autumn
The rain stopped hours ago, but the crown of the beech tree fades out in the grey smirr that glazes the morning. The leaves remain slicked with water, shining with reflected light. I trace the tree down from grey to green, branch to bough, back down to its elephant-grey trunk. This tree has presence. Not only for its size but for the dappled khaki, grey and teal lichens that have grown into the decades-old names of passersby carved into its skin. Soon this tree will be a riot of autumn colour. But we are not there yet.
My wife, Miranda, not content to simply gawp at a tree, beats me to the find. A few metres down the path, a branch has been lost to the floor, rotting in the soft sorrel and moss. She spots the smallest porcelain fungus, shining in the dark like a splash of spilt milk. It is a perfect thumb-sized thimble of a fungus. The domed cap is grey-tinged white and coated in a glossy slime. From the earth’s eye view, its gills look more like miniature ribs – robust white lines that hold the cap as they rise up from rotting beech. Seen from this angle the cap has a spectral sort of translucence.
The earth smells rich with the ripe and the rot of autumn. I look at the floor around me. An amethyst deceiver hides in the leaf litter as a small purple bolt. Nearby, the head of a shaggy inkcap has rolled up to the shape of a button and is leaching its black liquid self back to the soil. There are red mushrooms decaying, brown ones that are large and leathery-looking, a legion of caramel-coloured troopers, vague toadstools and the usual array of off-white circles. The scale of what I don’t know about fungi is vast enough to give me vertigo, but I know the porcelain fungus. I look up. There is one more in the big beech, bent around a high bare branch; saucer-sized and glowing with its own light.