We left Melbourne almost ten years ago and moved back to the country heading west. I’d always lived in the east of Victoria, our farm was in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range east of Melbourne so that had always been my local stomping ground. I knew it pretty well, the wet temperate rain forests of Powelltown and Nooje, the lush rolling green hills of Jindervick. But the west of the state was totally foreign to me.
One thing I noticed soon after moving here was the amount of established pine plantations. Pine is an introduced species offering minimal ecological benefit to native flora and fauna species. I hated pines. So much Australian hardwood forests had been cleared and replaced with extensive pine plantations. Over the years I’ve realised that it’s a necessary evil, and actually a relatively sustainable resource that can be harvested and replanted over and over again. A few years ago some friends introduced me to their love of Pine mushrooms and thus sparked my love affair with this Autumn culinary delight, with that developed a deep appreciation of pine forests.
This time of year I love nothing better than taking the Jeep into the forest, just me a foraging basket or two and a knife. The peace is outstanding.
Some parts of the forest are truly sublime. Nettles blanket the forest floor, small birds wizz in and around branches, Cockatoo’s feed on the pine cones and deer and rabbit hustle when approached. Then there’s the wind, it sounds a rawkus chorus as it filters between each needle and each branch like a wood wind instrument on ecstasy, creating howling operas to make your hair stand on end. Then there is the loggers tracks, only accessible with a 4WD this time of year. Some tracks look like they haven’t been visited for years, I fell unique like making the first morning footsteps at a sandy beach. The mushrooms are what brings me to the pines, and variety is the order of the day. Just when I think the season is coming to a close, new species that thrive in the colder wetter conditions take their turn to dot the forest floor. The luminescence of some varieties are worth closer inspection, even though they have no culinary value.
I pick what I need and reluctantly leave, returning to the synthetic world surrounded by a population largely intent on acquiring material possessions, social inequality, TV that makes little sense and people that have no idea what their missing.