Finders, keepers

Mushroom hunting is one thing, but actually finding mushrooms is quite another. It involves the right mix of weather, timing, and skill. Or, failing those, luck.

We stumbled onto several highly productive patches last year, in a season that was marked by the wettest October on record and a first freeze that was delayed until after Thanksgiving.

The talk amongst mushroomers this fall has been of relatively slim pickings. The culprit, it seems, is the abnormally dry summer we had this year.

Last weekend we returned to what had been a great chanterelle spot late last fall. Although we did find a few chanterelles–four to be exact–what we mostly found were divots. Specifically, chanterelle-sized holes in the moss, suggesting that someone had scooped us.

As we’ve established, mushroom hunters sometimes have trouble sharing.

Disappointed, our first reaction was righteous indignation. This was after all our spot. This forgotten access road with its weedy baby hemlocks and brambles, its unassuming gate and steep clamber down to a rushing creek, its road-side chanterelle habitat and game-trail portal to an even better patch, this was ours.

We’d scouted it last November, in the depths of post-election darkness. Grief, shock, anger, matched in sympathetic ferocity to the weeks of incessant rain and the increasingly long nights of late fall at northern latitudes.

I bear a deep affection for these sorts of places that is entirely out of proportion with any sort of conventional charm they might possess. Ravaged, overlooked, they nevertheless surprise the careful observer with an abundance that is all the sweeter for its unexpectedness.

I’m all for the postcard views, but a place that offers tangible evidence of hope in the midst of despair, well, that’s something to hold onto. Especially when that proof is in the form of wild edible things.

After we gathered up our four little chanterelles, we followed the main road up to a hike with Instagram-ready views, one we hadn’t done in years because its popularity has made it cumbersome. Sunday was quiet, though, and we shared the trail with a handful of fellow hikers and a trail maintenance crew.

As I hiked through exquisite mid-elevation forest, my frustration over the lack of chanterelle success gave way to something else, something not unlike gratitude.

Not about missing out on a potential haul of chanterelles, of course–I was still mad about that–but I began to feel a sort of companionship with the person who had taken the trouble to turn down that little road. After all, whoever picked my chanterelles had cared enough to seek them out in the forgotten corners of public lands. That person went to some trouble. This was someone who knew enough to seek out goodness, and that made the world feel a little less lonely.

It doesn’t matter, really, if this imagined person shares my love of logging roads, or if our politics align, or if those mushrooms were destined for a fellow recreationalist’s table or headed to a commercial outlet.

We shared commonality of place and activity, and that small overlap can, maybe, create space for other ways of understanding shared purpose. That too is tangible evidence of hope in the midst of a national mood that often feels like despair.

As I hiked along, feeling magnanimous and maybe a tad self-satisfied, I spotted an Hericium abietis, just visible on a downed tree beneath a thick layer of loosened bark. The mushroom–my favorite species–was huge and pristine, snuggled protectively between bark and tree. I greedily harvested a chunk of it, then gently replaced the bark over the remaining portion. The mycelium will continue producing in future years, for the benefit of the forest and any lucky mushroom hunter who chances along at the right time.

Commonality and shared purpose, yes, but this baby was mine all mine. This year, at least.


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  1. […] and the viscid purple caps shone in the leaf litter like small jewels. It was a day on which we’d struck out at our usual chanterelle patch, and I was grumbly and cranky and damp. And yet, here were these […]

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