To introduce myself, I've always loved the outdoors ever since I was a kid. I loved spending time in the backyard eating various fruit and berries that grew there. I was involved with Beavers and Cubs (scouts) and my family went camping a lot, and it really spurred an interest in simple living and survival skills. My teenager years were like a lot of other people; I was a bright student, but lacked direction and motivation, and my grades reflected that for a couple of years.
Fast forward to a bit more recently: last year I was looking for an excuse to kill time in the woods and I found a fungi I had just seen on the internet - Lion's Mane - and was very intrigued. I knew enough to know that getting the wrong mushroom is bad, so I put off figuring out if it had bad lookalikes until it went bad, too, and I always wanted to find more. My family has a bit of Alzheimer's and the research is looking great on this stuff. It was the end of the year, though, so I had to wait. At this point, other than the Lion's Mane I had discovered, I only knew about the button mushrooms, shiitake, and the magic ones.
That December, I dug out a camera I had gotten for Christmas one year and started looking for other fungi to take pictures of and try to identify. I spent all winter learning about some jelly fungi, lichens, local trees, what to expect in my area the rest of the year, and anything else I could.
By May or so this year, I was just itching for some terrestrial fungi to examine, and put my skills to the test. Sure enough, things started popping up. There was a lot more around than I had anticipated. Some things I hoped to find I couldn't. Some things I couldn't identify. It proved for a great pastime. I had normally just spent time in the woods to kill time, but this gave it some purpose. I had read about a lot of species of medicinal mushrooms out there, so it got to the point where if ye seek, ye will find... just maybe not what you were expecting.
This isn't really everyone's cup of tea though, so I wanted to find other people who were into this sort of thing, network, and learn from other people what I couldn't figure out myself, and maybe return the favour when I can. I set up @FungiwithBengi where I show my finds last fall. I get a little off-topic here and there, but I spam the internet with fungi whether I know what they are or not, though I try my best (don't trust anyone's IDs 100% on wild mushrooms ;) - always confirm with other sources before eating). I'm loving the feedback and getting to know really great people. Shout-out to Mycopals! I honestly never thought I'd be into photography, but when you use it as a tool it can be quite fun. I have a LOT of pictures of mushrooms now.
It's winter again, but I plan on cramming all that fungal knowledge into my noodle again this winter. I don't go for as many walks as I used to, but it's given me a real reason to go outside, and a tangible way of seeing what's really going on in the world. I call forests "the woods" a lot, but I think it's a bit of a disservice to what they really are. There's a ton of life out there, and the more I learn about fungi, the more it seems like the black sheep of the kingdom of life, and that we'll benefit incredibly by learning new ways to use their chemical makeup to our advantage, and bioremediate the soil a bit and save a little at the grocery store for a lot of people while we're at it. I love/hate the idea that there's so much food and medicine out there that people don't even know about - maybe in their own back yards.
I don't know how I'm going to do it, but about a year ago, I seem to have subconsciously decided that I'm going to pursue this fungal interest into the future, and find a career in it if I can, and I hope more people do, too. The majority of us aren't tapping into this wonderful resource, let alone aware of it, and I can only hope I manage to help other people to get outside and love mother nature along the way. She is beautiful. Get out and explore.
Follow him on Twitter, @FungiwithBengi. Ben is constantly helping others in the community with identification and more.
$100 USD has been donated to the Alzheimer's Foundation, Ben's charity of choice.