Today we are sharing a story and some rarely seen illustrations from Josef Lada. This was originally published in Czech as O svátecních houbarích and appeared in Pestrý týden, issue # 24, published on June 15, 1927. We’ve translated it for you and we’re calling it The Festive Mushroom Pickers.
Neighborly chatter was coming from one of them.
An ordinary mushroom picker, who picks mushrooms to earn a living, is already in the forest at 4 am, which he walks through as silently as a ghost to collect from his usual “spots”, so he may collect a heaping basket of mushrooms. He then goes gently back home.
Only then does he eat breakfast and look indifferently at his wife as she carefully cleans the mushrooms and places them in a white bowl. He does not consider his own work as important as this work which “mom” does so that she may sell the mushrooms well.
The festive mushroom picker behaves differently. He considers his early outing to pick mushrooms for the undertaking itself and treats it as if it were as significant as hiking to the North Pole. But he usually finds nothing. If he does find a few mushrooms, he takes them for a walk all over the village and watches to see whether people are looking at the spoils in his basket.
These baskets, that the festive mushroom pickers take on their expeditions, are often so large that the few mushrooms they do find only stagger on the bottom. But some mushroom pickers have discovered all kinds of tricks so that it seems as if they are returning home with the mother lode.
The bottom is filled with glidants, cossacks, saffron milk cap, or rusulla and the mushrooms are placed on the top to make it look as if they were only carrying mushrooms. Indeed, there are even those that are not ashamed of misleading the public by placing grass, leaves, or even scabbers underneath to make their baskets look full of mushrooms.
Other mushroom pickers do it differently. They know that the more equipment they bring, the less common their prey will be. Therefore, they go to the woods empty-handed
and claim that they are going instead to the station, for flowers, or on a trip. And then they sometimes indeed stumble on a “spot” where mushrooms are all around. They then put them into wherever a pocket, a handkerchief, or a hat will allow, and when the sweat from all this hunting enthusiasm is running, and they finally don’t have any other place to stuff their mushrooms into, they will often leave, unload their goodies, and then come back and find the spot even richer. That is one heck of good luck.
However, if the mushroom yield is low, so that only lucky ones find very few mushrooms, festive mushroom pickers will hold to an organizational rank heaping. This means that found mushrooms are not collected, but rather left in the woods. Later they will once again, they seek the mushrooms, which were once already found. And this situation is repeated even ten times in succession. It looks suspicious and only the crazy ones do it, but it is true, because I have often entertained myself with it.
So a festive mushroom picker goes to the forest. It is raining and he thinks, “Today, there will be no one there, who in hell would go to the woods in such weather?” But this is what most of the mushroom pickers think and in the woods there is a whole Congress of them.
If a mushroom picker has his “spots” where he regularly collects, he almost feels robbed and damaged when he enters the forest thinking he will collect the mushrooms and he finds his “spots” already picked. Perhaps it is a strange forest, the ground somehow cut by the fresh roots breaking through. If this is the case, he’ll run away, fast as a housekeeper who has robbed the henhouse.
It really is very painful when, after long hours of searching the forest and targeting the most secret mushroom spots, the mushroom picker goes with a last hope to his surest spot, and he finds a fellow mushroom picker, quietly picking a pool of beautiful mushrooms.
When two festive mushroom pickers meet in a forest they never miss the opportunity to peek into each other’s basket or knots, at what and how many the other one has collected.
Sometimes the forest is like a fairground. This happens mostly, however, in the public or peasant forests, because it is strictly prohibited to enter the noble forests. This results in
uproar, protest, and hooting, whistling, and yelling. A family of eight may go to the forest. The family has a signal to call the missing family members. But beyond that, each family member also has his own signal, to inform the others of the sort of mushroom he has just found. For an ordinary mushroom the little daughter has a signal which goes, “Koko!”, for a better one, “Koko, Koko!” and for the best one, “Koko, Koko, Koko!”.
The son has the signal, “cock-a-doodle-doo!”. The adult daughter, “Hello!”. And the old lady, “Hallelujah!” Then such a shout wanders through the beauteous groove as if on a pilgrimage: “Fit, fit; lines, lines, lines; cock-a-doodle-doo; hello, hello; Hallelujah; coco, coco, coco; bump, bump; Pac, Pac, Pac!”
Above, on the stones which run between the rural, peasant woods and the noble woods, sits a royal gamekeeper. His eyes are wide, his beard bushy, and his hand clutches a thick knotted stick. He thinks, “Krajctirknelement, bejt to tak panskej les, I would herd them away!” And the gamekeeper imagines how he would have jumped up and waved a knotted stick, chasing them out of the woods with terrible curses: “Krucinálfagot, krajcelement, pilijár, basamapatalión.” This means that no one waits for him.
After a rich hunting, the festive mushroom picker wanders home. If the picker is near a famous forest, he may sometimes encounter a procession of other mushroom pickers. They barely notice him first, but just as he passes around them, they look back at him, their eyes piercing through the contents of his bag or basket. And if they notice a large
bounty, you can immediately observe how quickly they begin filling their baskets.
Picking mushrooms is fun and all sorts of little episodes make it even better. Once I went to pick some mushrooms with my wife. We could not find anything for a long time, passing through the forest, criss-crossing unsuccessfully, until suddenly I let out a joyful shout: “Halali!” Hidden in the moss, two little brown mushroom heads were laughing at me. My wife was envious that I had found the first catch of the day and she started looking further with greater fervor. Then I eagerly scrambled up a hill and when I was barely halfway to the top, my wife let out a joyous shout: “Come here, quickly! Come quickly and look what I found! What are your two little mushrooms compared to these!”
I start walking down the hill, worrying I have been outdone, but also curious about the discovery. I do not see the path and to my wonder, I jump over a mushroom, big as a great cobbler. I pick it and put my hand with the mushroom in it, behind my back. I no longer hurry down the slope, aware the that the victory is now mine. Down, below the forest, I see my darling wife running toward me, with fine mushrooms in her hands and her hands held high.
“This one is nice, isnt it?” my wife shouts happily. In reply I hold up my two kilogram heavy one: “And what about this one?” My wife lowers her hands.
Afterwards, when I walked proudly home, deliberately carrying the mushroom on my shoulder like a heavy burden, I met farmers, of whom few glanced at my enormous discovery. One of them let out a good-natured remark: “Why didn’t you say something? I have horses back home, I would be glad to bring that one home for you!”
And something else! If two mushroom pickers walk home together with full bags, they should never get drawn into a wild controversy. I once saw these two hot-blooded mushroom pickers who, after a brief but heated argument, began hitting each other with the bags filled with collected mushrooms. Then, after they had had enough, they simply glanced anxiously at the “left-overs” and what they saw was merely the pulp and tiny broken pieces of the mushrooms which deserved exactly what they did to them: emptied them into a ditch.
Note: Remember that this is in old Czech and almost 100 years old. For those of you who read Czech, here is the original story published in 1926.
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