A journal entry from the countryside: A smooth mushroom that proves the significance of names | Written by Mark Cocker
This upland moor is a place where culture and nature are intertwined. Everywhere we looked on this sun-glazed morning were irregular, if repeated, hummocks and corresponding hollows that are the insignia of old mineshafts.
In the past, workers in Derbyshire would track lead deposits in Bonsall and as they excavated, they would leave piles of waste. These mounds are still highly polluted with toxic metals, posing a risk of lead poisoning to livestock and causing minimal grazing activity. Many abandoned mine shafts have been filled with hawthorn trees, resulting in Bonsall having a higher density of thorn bushes than other areas in the county. Fieldfares feed on their berries and the skies are often filled with the calls of chattering thrushes.
While we were walking, we stumbled upon a unique sight of a nature overrun by culture. We came across a fungus, with its velvety brown-purple appearance resembling a shell, that thrives on elder plants and was formerly known as “Jew’s ear”. However, this edible fungus has now been renamed to “jelly ear” in order to remove its offensive connotation. This change mirrors the recent actions of the American Ornithological Society, which has removed the mostly male-dominated patronymics from 120 bird names, such as Audubon’s shearwater and Wilson’s snipe.
I comprehend the reasoning behind the need for new names. For example, there are around 12,000 British species of fungi that often get lost in the complex world of scientific terminology. Common names, which are easy to remember, are an important aspect of building personal connections. We shake hands and exchange names as part of the common protocol of getting to know someone. Names serve as a crucial first step in forming relationships, developing fondness, and even love.
It is important to have records of previous names, even if it serves as a reminder of our past mistakes. I am particularly curious about two names, as I had the pleasure of being accompanied by Charles Foster, the writer of “Being a Human,” who experimented with living in the Upper Palaeolithic era in this exact location.
He survived for several weeks by scavenging for food. We remembered that the people in his chosen community would have eaten fieldfares filled with fruit and jelly ears. I wonder what those foods were called back then?