It rained last week – what we in the northwest call a mushroom rain, a long slow drenching rain. Non residents of the northwest are surprised to learn that rain is a rare commodity during the summer here, and even though we tire quickly of the incessant rain and gloom of northwest winters, the return of rain in the fall is a welcomed thing – especially for those of us who venture into the woods to gather mushrooms.
Sandee used to go along on my forest adventures only because she wanted to know immediately when and if I got lost in the woods! I really don’t know exactly why she would come along – she just sat in the car and read while I gathered – seems pretty boring to me. But more recently, she too joins me in the “ultimate Easter egg hunt” – she now says she does this for the exercise – and that’s for damn sure! There’s no way to gather mushrooms without subjecting your body to a serious workout.
So San and I packed a lunch, got all our gear together, and set off mid-morning to check our favorite picking spots. I always start in a very low, easily accessible BLM (Bureau of Land Management) forest about 15 miles from our house. I like this area because although the user policies of each federal/state agency differ, our local BLM office treats mushroomers well – many other government agencies do not! But I understand why this is – gathering mushrooms has become very popular, especially now in a tight economy, and frankly, the behavior of some pickers – especially the pros – has required those government agencies to increase their “policing” of their lands – and this does not make them happy.
I’ve always been amazed at the accessibility of the forests in the northwest – there is little to keep a visitor from wandering anywhere they please, and a mind boggling network of forest roads to accommodate such an interest. Of course, this “openness” is a result of America’s public lands policy of the past 100 years, and the effort to create recreational spaces for the masses. But when it comes down to the bottom line, those government agencies overseeing America’s public lands make most of any revenue they collect not from public visitors, but from the lumber companies who contract with the government to clear those forest lands for its valuable timber.
And so it was on this promising opening day of autumn mushroom gathering, 2010, we made our last turn onto the narrow dirt forest road which leads to “our” favorite spot for finding white chanterelles. But why were we seeing newly cut logs stacked on the roadside? Not a lot of logs, but enough to indicate that perhaps some thinning activity was underway. And the further we proceeded, the more that assumption was confirmed – and as we pulled up to our usual parking spot, we could hear the big machines at work nearby, and the occasional saw as it removed yet another of our forest friends.
The good news- they had not yet reached our favored picking area. The bad news- only some 200 yards up the road they were hard at work cutting a new road through the forest, and such activity is usually indicative of an intention to clear-cut an area, not simply thin it out. But, new road notwithstanding, as we wandered through our favored tract, we noted the occasional tree with its blue spray paint splotch, and our hope once again rose that perhaps this was a thinning operation, and not a complete clear cut. For a mushroom gatherer, thinning is much preferred, since it does not destroy, completely or permanently, the existing mushroom mycelium – and in fact may make the area more easily accessible for picking.
But still, as we made our way through the tight undergrowth of the Douglas firs on our quest, we couldn’t help but feel like we were having a last meeting with a good old friend – one you fear you may never see again. But when these emotions rise to the top, I have to remind myself that I’m simply a guest in these woods, and frankly, a guest whose special interests are far down on the priority list of the gracious benefactor who has extended the privilege of use. And then I count my blessings and remind myself how fortunate I am to be doing what I love.
Here’s a short photo gallery of our ‘shrooming efforts yesterday, accompanied by a few notes which may assist any new mushroom gatherers in their efforts. But always remember, when you go out into the forest, the finding of mushrooms is only the gravy – the greatest benefit is just being there, and letting the forest speak to you – and if you’re quiet, it will.
Get out and enjoy the experience.
A good safe way to start picking mushrooms is to learn how to identify one kind of mushroom, and only pick that one. And the chanterelle is a great one to start with, because it’s so easy to identify. So, if your mushroom rains have already started, get out in the woods and listen – and if you find some mushrooms, you are indeed a lucky soul.