It’s been about 8-10 days since our first really good rains of the fall season have started. I thought that was probably enough time to pop the bloom of the white chanterelles, but, …, no, not quite – there were some, but not buckets. But it was far from a wasted trip. It was an absolutely beautiful day in the woods, and such days reward the soul far more than the body.
I’ve said many times, and to any who care to listen, that autumn in the northwest is the premier season of the year. The smells of the woods are nothing short of fantastic, the angle of the sun allows the rays to penetrate into the forest walls more readily than even in mid summer, and the warming, moist, woodsy duff encourages the rich fungal growth that we ‘shroomers are so eager to see. Yeah, I’ve been out there on dreary, rainy days, and those days may be just as productive as any, but they don’t do much to build your spirit. No, it takes a beautiful, fall day to make it memorable, and yesterday was one of those days.
Another reason why it’s good to get out on that first fall foray is to hone your skills a bit, and to wake your body to the added energy and muscle use needed for ‘shrooming. For those reasons, it’s almost better that it’s not too easy or you’d miss those opportunities. I’m a little stiff today, but that’s the price for getting in shape for the really good days. So much for the physical part – but what about the visual skill honing?
Hunting mushrooms opens whole new worlds to its practitioners, but I really don’t know if all who take part have thought much about it. But in my own case, when I first started looking in the woods for mushrooms, it was difficult to know if I wasn’t finding them because they weren’t there, or because I just couldn’t see them! As I got more skilled, I began to realize, it was mostly the latter. Nowadays, sometimes I amaze myself on how easily I can find hiding mushrooms, and some of them can hide themselves extremely well. Why is this? What’s happening here?
Whenever I begin thinking about this, I recall my old college psych major days, and the Gestalt theories of imprinting, and emergence of form in the brain. I’m sure this is absoutely happening – there is something in your brain that makes it super easy for you to pick out the characteristics of a chanterelle, even though it’s hidden among all sorts of conflicting images on the forest floor. And this ability is related to your own past experiences in using those same skills successfully, over and over and over again. Amazing stuff!
So maybe I didn’t do so well yesterday not because the mushrooms weren’t there, but because I just didn’t see them. Well, maybe one or two – I’m sure my skills of observation need a bit more honing … but, … oh, who knows – maybe they were everywhere! Nah. Stop trying to play with my head.
I’ll be going out again next week, when I know there will be lots more mushrooms blooming. And I think I’ll come back here and do a few articles on the basics of mushroom picking. I know when I started, I sure would have liked to have had some kind of basic guide on finding mushrooms – but there just wasn’t anything. People would say to me, “Just go out to the woods and start looking.” So that’s what I did – but I can tell you now, I wasted a LOT of time that way. So I’ll do a few basic guides to help increase your chances, and to shorten the learning curve – but that imprinting stuff – there ain’t no shortcut for that, time will teach you.