Christopher and Helen, our new expatriate friends,
meet us at their favorite winery
where they fill their plastic jerry cans from hoses
exactly like the ones at gas stations,
as though they’re planning to go back home to Aix
and treat their lawnmower to a nice red.
Instead, they take us in their forest green Peugeot
to the home of their old friend Brigitte
in a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux—
actually, not a village, Brigitte corrects me,
but “un hameau,” a hamlet. The French
are exacting about such distinctions, though Brigitte
has a kind, mischievous smile. Back in the car,
we tear along a series of rutted, stony roads
that web the mountainside, with Brigitte
directing Christopher, “à droite, à gauche, encore à gauche,”
until we come to a grove of pines, cedars, and oaks,
where she says the mushrooms are hidden.
We fan out under the trees, searching the slope,
while Brigitte, looking elfin in her orange hoodie,
waves a stick like a wand, pokes at the dried pine needles
or the dead leaves under wild boxwood bushes,
and sings, “I think there are some over here,”
like a mother leading her toddlers toward Easter eggs.
We laugh and follow after her, cutting the stems
with a tarnished knife she lends us, warning
“Faites attention,” because the blade is sharp.
And gradually we fill our plastic shopping bags
with gnarled orange caps, stained green,
which, much later, back in the States, I learn
are called Lactarius deliciosus or
orange-latex milky, like a shade of paint,
the field guide commenting “edible, although
not as good as the name deliciosus suggests”—
but we already suspect that (they look awful),
and we’ll later unload most of ours on
Christopher and Helen who clearly think of them
as a delicacy . . . but right now we’re
just hunting for them among the sunspots
on the forest floor, filling our bags,
and calling through the trees, the whole afternoon
gathering into the giddy moment
that Brigitte keeps calling us back to.
Copyright © 2020 Jeffrey Harrison
Used with the permission of Four Way Books.