Long Litt Woon arrived in Norway as an 18-year-old exchange student. A week or two later at a party she would meet the man that would become her husband.
The couple were together for 32 years until one day Eiolf went to work and didn’t come home - he die unexpectedly at the age of 54, leaving Woon adrift with grief.
Her book The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning is about her journey after his death.
Initially she thought the book would just be about the kingdom of fungi that she had stumbled upon, but as she started to write a line or two about Eiolf in the premise, she knew it also needed to be about her inner journey in the landscape of grief.
“Basically, I got into the forest and out of grief.”
Following her husband’s death, Woon went to a bereavement group and needed to find something to do with herself, a form of relief.
A beginners mushrooming course came about by chance and offered her what she was looking for.
“I was not crazy about mushrooms to start with, but yeah, I became crazy about mushrooms.”
There’s a thrill in the chase, the hunt for mushrooms, and you don’t know if you’ll get what you’re looking for, she says.
There’s about 1000 people in the Greater Oslo Fungi and Useful Plant Society.
Mushrooming is very organised in Norway, Woon soon found out.
“It doesn’t mean that it’s a big deal in Norway, there are a lot of people in Norway that hate mushrooms even, or are afraid of mushrooms, would not want to touch a wild mushroom.”
But there is a such a thing as a mushroom inspector, which Woon is now.
“You need to know your mushrooms, the poisonous ones and the not poisonous ones.”
But she says, that’s just basic knowledge.
During mushroom season, the inspectors station themselves at the edge of the forest so anyone coming out with a bag of mushrooms can have them checked.
“If you have something really, really toxic, deadly toxic, in your basket, we’ll throw out all the mushrooms.”
Some of the dangerous mushrooms can kill you and contaminate the rest of your haul.
Mushrooming made Woon change her idea of what would make her happy.
“It changed my definition of happiness and in that way, I became a new person too.”
Long Litt Woon features in the New Zealand Festival of the Arts in Wellington in early March.