In these seven tales, gathered from stories previously published in literary journals, Suzanne d’Corsey evokes the transcendent power of the wild places and the human heart. An archaeologists’ trip to a funeral on a remote island in the Scottish Highlands rips back the veil of the mystical in unexpected ways. A young man fleeing city life for the wilds of Vermont finds there’s far more to the forest than he ever imagined. Two women sail to Staffa off the West Coast of Scotland on a romantic voyage of danger and discovery. A Canadian woman must navigate a harrowing month on an Irish farm. In these and other stories, d’Corsey draws us into the crossroads of myth, romance, and destiny.
Zach leaves for the talk at the village library a little early so that he can get some groceries at the co-op before it closes. He is excited to be able to hear a local mycologist giving a talk on the fungi currently fruiting in the woods, even though he seriously doubts he’ll learn anything new, but who knows, maybe the chaga thief will be among the audience and show his hand. Then he could confront the guy with the whole weight of the ecologically sensitive group to back him up, how satisfying would that be? This vision is celebration enough for another fantasy. Here is Zach, the hero of their cause, standing upright among the library stacks, noble champion to the oppressed foragers, all eyes on him as he expounds with erudition on the Inonotus obliquus, and shames the shifty chaga thief into reparation, the returning of the stolen chaga to be divided equally among all. This is a new feeling for Zach, of being respected and applauded by a group of honest upstanding citizens. He feels a great swell of affection for his chosen Vermont village. He will be their hero, he will become a luminary and shine among them. He drives his rattling old dark-blue Subaru into the dirt parking lot, waves at village acquaintances walking to their newer Subarus. Along the porch, he passes the far-too-many-to-read flyers on the community bulletin board. Below, in the ever-rotating stacks of magazines and newspapers in wooden bins, the flashy cover of the latest ‘Wisdom of the Ages’ magazine shows a fantasy forest scene abundant with wildlife and bees and… mushrooms. He pauses. Surely this enlightened holistic-based magazine will not be buying into the greed for and destruction of the chaga? He takes one up, puts his canvas tote down, and thumbs to the countless ads in the back. He should have known better. He takes a deep breath and pushes the magazine into his tote bag to take to the library talk as an example of the insidiousness of what they are dealing with. Into the village co-op he goes, through the familiar wooden door, to the comforting smells of hand-made soaps and fresh vegetables and the grill at the little deli at the far end of the store. He lifts a shopping basket and tosses his… well, okay... his disgustingly filthy canvas bag into the bottom of the basket and heads for the bulk section. The displays of the mostly local vegetables he passes by are always satisfyingly fresh and honestly organic. Here are some fresh garlic scapes, and new purple yams, which they don’t grow on the farm. As he reaches for the yams, he stops short. In a large basket at eye level, inches from his nose, are chunks of chaga. Priced at $18.95 per quarter pound. With a chirpy hand-written card clipped to the basket that reads, ‘Locally Sourced Chaga! Great for tea and tinctures!’ It is like seeing the pet lamb on the dining table in the form of a roast. There is a lot of chaga. It has been cut into brick-sized pieces, and he wonders at that moment- he actually wonders- if the persons buying it know it will have dried to the solidity of granite, and they’ll have to get the saw out, or the cheese grater, and end up with golden dust and blackened pieces all over the kitchen counter, as he himself found out the hard way, little spiders still in the chaga fleeing for their lives. And even while his chaga self is thinking it should have been chopped into small cubes while it was still fresh, his activist self enters a full state of outrage and sense of betrayal. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell? His own co-op, his very own beloved community symbol of his chosen life, is complicit in the annihilation? Shopping basket banging forgotten against his thigh, he walks through the bulk section and organic wines to the co-op office. “Hi, Zach.” The general manager is headed out the door, always on the move, always busy, but she stops and gives a welcoming smile. Be calm, he tells himself. Find out the facts first before you say anything. “Can I ask you a question?” “Of course you can.” “I saw the chaga.” She waits, head tilted. “Where did you get it?” She leans a hand against the door frame. “It’s local, good quality, isn’t it?” “You know, if it’s not harvested correctly, the whole thing will die? Once it’s dug out of the tree, like I’ve just seen all over the mountain, it won’t grow back.” She waves it away. “We live in an abundant area for medicinal mushrooms, we’re so lucky.” “But it’s not the same as taking a fruiting body. The chaga is the sclerotia, the mycelial mass itself.” She laughs. “That’s more information than I can take in.” “This isn’t funny. It’s deadly serious. You should know this. When this guy, whoever your supplier is…?” She doesn’t offer a reply. “When they chop out the chaga like what’s happened, it’s gone. It’s destroyed. And then nobody who lives around here can harvest any.” “But people who can’t forage on the mountain really appreciate having chaga on sale here. So we are actually benefiting more people by selling it.” “No. You don’t understand. This chaga has not been sustainably harvested. In fact, you can’t sustainably harvest chaga on a commercial scale. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Like the buffalo. Like the passenger pigeons. It’s like what’s wrong with everything today, it’s corporate greed and they destroy precious resources for everyone.” “Please calm down, Zach. I really appreciate your opinion. But also I put it to you, think of the people we are helping become acquainted with the benefits of chaga. Some are in cancer treatments and want to try alternatives. It has anti-tumor, anti-viral, antibacterial properties. There is some exciting research…” “Yes, I know all that, of course I know all that. Did the board okay this…this destruction of a limited resource?” “No, it was the decision of the produce manager, which I okayed.” “Who is that, Marty? Is it Marty?” “For heaven’s sake, Zach.” “Who did you buy the chaga from? What’s his name? Somebody needs to deal with this.” His face is burning and beads of sweat are popping up on his brow, some worried faces are peering around the bulk section bins, and so what? “Okay, stop.” Her palm barricades between them. “Just stop. Your anger is getting the better of you.” “I feel my anger is fully justified!” "Chaga has anti-inflammatory properties, too, right?” His brows knit together. “So?” “Sounds like we need to brew a cup right now,” she laughs. Once again speech fails him. “I’m sorry,” she says. “A little humor. Didn’t mean to offend you.” She leans back through the office door, then straightens. She holds up a bar of fair trade chocolate. “Would this help?” Zach, breath coming in huffs, glares at the bar. “Come on, Zach,” she says. “How about you attend the next board meeting and state your position?” Zach takes the chocolate, turns on his heel and stomps out the co-op. He pivots again, re-enters, and places the shopping basket back into its stack, and leaves again. The door of his car shrieks when he yanks it open, catching on the rust creeping up from the undercarriage. He kicks the rust and a chunk of god knows what part of the car falls off. Every damn thing is falling apart. Zach hurls the tote bag across to the passenger side. The manager must keep a box of chocolates in her office as a means to diffuse disgruntled co-op members. He looks at the picture of some endangered fruit bat on the bar and snorts a laugh. Well, it worked.