Category Archives: mushrooms

Another time

seven chanterelles

I grew up in a time when I could roam the woods by myself. I could grab a hat, and walk out our back door, not letting the screen slam or else my mother might remember that I should possibly be doing something else, like weeding, or picking beans. I hated picking string beans because of the squashy prickly bean beetle larvae that crawled over leaf stems and beans. They gave me the creeps because they looked as though they had neither tail nor head, just a translucent blob, the naked juiciness of them studded with a pattern of black spines. They would break against my fingers and I loathed the sap of their deaths on my hands.

Quickly walk along the tractor path that traced the base of the hill, so I’d be out of earshot of anyone remembering that I should be tutoring my younger sister, or perhaps vacuuming the living room. Or dusting— the job that never ended. Then, with a deep breath of freedom, across the mown slope barely in view of the house. Don’t look behind, or I might see someone waving me back home for any of those chores I was convinced could wait. Over the rise, almost running, with the sweat prickling down between my shoulder blades, and down past the brushy edge of woods that bordered corn fields green with eager breeze blown blades, taller than my head, the overcast glow of sky hot on my hat.

I always looked for other people. Looked for farmworkers, for wanderers, for the adolescent boy checking out possible hunting ground before the fall, despite the “No Hunting” signs my cousin had posted on this old Gowen land. Then I’d duck down a path into the woods, this path wide enough for a truck. Trucks had come this way, keeping it open. The farmworkers often parked down here where the slope of land deepened, seeking shade for lunch time.

six chanterelles

I knew that if I came across anyone else there, I should not let them know of my presence.. Soft footing around, I prided myself I’d always spot any intruder first, and never would they see me. Every so often, I’d take a pause, breathing through my mouth to listen. What did I fear? Nothing so clear; I simply knew I was safest alone, unknown, unnamed.

Now how many children have such freedom? To lose themselves in the woods and orchards of infinite mystery and promise, discovering animals, spying on insects, picking up a shed hawk feather or collecting a cluster of fresh chanterelles from the duff under the hemlocks? I took part of my education there in the shadows of trees, naming red oak and sugar maple, white pine and the startling silver and black of paper birch. What has replaced this for our children now?

single chanterelle

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Filed under blog, education, experiences, mushrooms, natural history

Moments of Time Travel

hydnum

This summer the air has hung heavy, in a way I’ve rarely sensed in Southern California. Humid, so the scent of sawdust and mown grass, of horse manure and last night’s skunk children playing about under my walk lights, all meet me in the morning.

These let the past slip into my perception, so that for minutes at a time, I’m not here at all. Time travel, spatial travel, all feel as though they really happen even though I stand here in my front yard by orange trees.

I can see back to New Hampshire, 1972, the morning light on stray horses in our back garden, long grass verges drooping with dew and the occasional sparkle as a drop catches the early summer sun warming into gold. A breath later and I’m in 1974, walking a forest path with the dusty fugg of wild mushrooms rising from the paper bag in my hand. Stop, kneel in the oak duff and dust back the leaves to expose the solemn pink of a hydnum with its little hedgehog spines instead of gills under the cap.

I’ve hear it said that time travel is best invoked by smell. Could be. But perhaps it has to do with having a moment to pause, without the dog barking alarms, without our cats calling for food or the chickens squawking disarray and destruction, maybe it’s the right sound that performs an incantation. Marvelous brains that can give us such gifts, or curse us with them.

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We went hunting

Envy us my friends — look at this–

over a pound of morels

Over a pound of morels, Morchella esculenta to be precise. We heard from the kid she’d seen some when out walking with a friend and after grilling her about why she hadn’t collected them, since they were on public property, we headed out. Note, it was after seven o’clock in February so the sun had set. But what are flashlights for? What are mycophiles for? How could we wait?

morels caught surprised in the night

This is what morels look like when taken by surprise in the dark.  We left plenty, and carefully cut the stems above the ground. Some folk say that isn’t necessary, but I would rather have no regrets and this way I can at least know I did my best to leave the mycelia reasonably undisturbed. Maybe we were hobbits in a previous incarnation.

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(I will add the necessary caution about collecting mushrooms for food. I’ve been studying mushrooms as a hobby for over forty years and feel reasonably confident of my ability to identify specimens. I’d say never consume wild mushrooms casually. There’s good reason for all the lore about their deadliness. There are great reasons for the wonderful books out there to aid you in identification of types and species. (I don’t even know any more how many of these I own.) Additionally, some folk have allergies to certain species of mushroom and that’s not always predictable. If any doubt exists, toss the fungi away. It’s not worth a stomach ache or worse.)

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Filed under blog, food, Morchella esculenta, morels, mushrooms, science