It was a beautiful Fall afternoon, with crisp Autumn sunshine and an occasional lazy breeze. There it was, pushing the sugar maple leaves aside as it reached up out of the soil: an Inky Cap! Some people hunt these critters to eat them, but this encounter was exciting to me for a different reason.
"Where are the other ones?"
Strolling up and down the dirt road, lined with sentinel sugar maple trees, I searched the ground within the leaves for more Inky Caps. As I walked I imagined the underground web of the Inky Cap's body, the silky tendrils of mycelium that live under our feet and allow life to be what it is. As I held this image in my mind's eye I silently expressed my intentions to it:
"I want to make ink with your fruit" (mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the much much larger organism).
That is when I found several more at various stages of development. Some of them were just peeking up out of the leaf litter, while others had been standing there long enough for the rims of there caps to exude and even drip with an inky black liquid. After taking a bunch of pictures and leaving a simple offering of gratitude, I carefully harvested six of the most degraded Inky Caps (cutting them at the base with my knife, rather than pulling them out of the ground) and brought them home.
First, I made a spore print with each of them, because spore prints are cool and are art in their own right. Then, I simply put them into a glass jar and let them hang out there for a week or so. Each day I would check on them to see what was happening. Over time the solid, whitish-gray parts of the mushroom transformed into a black, almost oily liquid. As time passed the smell of my little experiment also took on a greater presence. What started out as a pleasant earthy aroma gradually morphed into something that resembles rotten fish! I was curios to find out if that smell would mellow as the ink 'brewed', It didn't.
When it seemed that all the solids had converted to liquids I strained the ink solution through a fine-mesh filter into another jar and decided to try it out without adding any ingredients as a binder. The six mushrooms were now a bit more than a half-cup of stinky ink.
The ink that these mushrooms made was a deep, dark black-brown and was impressive in its workability and responsiveness. It worked well with my turkey quill pens, bamboo and reed pens, as well as my paint brushes for doing ink washes. I would even go as far as saying it was a pleasure working with it, despite the strong smell. I look forward to playing with it some more.