I descend the steep dirt road and notice a man approaching. “Buongiorno.”
“Signora.” The man avoids looking at me.
“Excuse me, but what were you doing?”
Truffles? Our grounds contain truffles?
“Uh—black truffles?” I try to sound casual.
He shuffles his feet and thrusts one hand into his jeans pocket. “Well…no, white ones.”
The white gold of Umbria—worth up to €3000 per kilo.
A nervous excitement seizes me. “Did you find any?”
“Beh, not really. It hasn’t been raining enough.”
In an instant, I’m transported back twelve years…in France…
The scent of resin enveloped me as I left the path and ducked under low branches into the pine forest. By the light of dawn, I scanned the soil for porcini mushrooms. Nothing. Had someone gotten here before me? Although I hadn’t detected any signs yet—mushroom stems, cut at ground level—the mere idea of an intruder was enough to infuriate me. Never mind that it was a public forest; I discovered this porcini-rich area. It was mine.
My gaze fastened on a bulge in the earth. I brushed aside needles to reveal the light brown cap of a mushroom. After removing the soil around the fungus, I cut its stem and inhaled the creamy, nutty fragrance. My spotless treasure, weighing at least a pound, filled me with exhilaration.
Just as I closed the lid of my basket, a rustle called my attention. I froze. I caught a glimpse of a rival’s boots as he wandered past, his stick lifting the underbrush along the path. Needles pricked my face; my back ached. But I refused to budge.
While waiting for the threat to recede—my eyes ever roving—I spotted a mushroom above ground, about ten feet away. As soon as all was clear, I crawled to it and found it wasn’t alone. This wasn’t hunting; this was mining! I worked feverishly. My knife hovered over some small ones; if I left them, tomorrow they’d be much bigger—but no, I couldn’t risk anyone else discovering them. The entire porcini family disappeared into my basket. They were mine.
On my way back home, I overtook my foe.
“Porcini hunting?” He asked with more than normal interest.
“Yes, but it’s a bad year.” I twirled my basket as if it didn’t weigh five kilo.
“You’re right—I didn’t find anything either.” His plastic collecting bag fluttered in the breeze.
The man’s whistle calls me back to the present. A beagle comes running and sits down at the feet of his owner.
“Does the dog help you to find truffles?”
“Si, signora. When he sniffs them out, he starts scratching the ground, and I dig them up with a scoop.”
He takes his hand out of his pocket and shows five marble-sized truffles. “Do you want them? They are yours after all.”
I ignore the whisper in my head. Thanks to Jesus, I’m not the person I was twelve years ago.
“No, please keep them. I only asked because yesterday, I found a dead badger with snare wounds around its snout. I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t put any traps out here; they would hurt our dogs.”
“Thank you.” He puts the truffles back in his pocket.
“Will you sell them or eat them?”
“Definitely sell them, signora. I recently lost my job. Since my wife works only part-time, and we have two small children, I am looking for ways to make some money.”
Before he closes the door of his old Fiat Panda, he lifts his hand in greeting. “Grazie, signora. Arrivederla. ”
A trail of grey smoke marks his path as he drives up the road.
I set out for my walk back home. Despite the steep climb, I manage a spring in my step.
I published this article first on FaithWriters.
Photo credit: Stefano Cellai/age fotostock