Pass the Pepper Please


One of the most pleasant ways to get exercise is to be out in the woods climbing over and under sticks, branches, and fallen logs. Why would anyone do that when it would be easier to follow a smooth man-made path through a park? It’s a classic case of “The end justifies the means.”

Many years ago, my friends took me out into the forest and showed me what a chanterelle looked like and more importantly, what it did not look like. It was so quiet in the woods as we walked on the spongy moss of the forest floor. In search of mushrooms, I forced myself to look carefully at everything around me. An abandoned grouse nest with several broken eggs lay forgotten at the base of a tree. Squirrels scolded me as they scampered along fallen logs and up tree trunks. Beautiful varieties of poisonous mushrooms teased me, knowing I wouldn’t pick them. Two huckleberries were left on a bush – possibly missed by the bear that may have browsed there earlier. What an experience it was to notice so many examples of nature that I would otherwise have been unaware of.

That day I was very careful not to pick and eat any mushroom I was not sure of, or I might not be here to write this blog today. It’s always best to go with an expert until you learn to identify your mushrooms beyond doubt.

Last week I went out in the woods with a friend to look for chanterelles. It was a bit late in the season and many of the chanterelles were soggier than I would have liked. We found enough good ones to make the effort worthwhile, but I have a feeling that soon the frost will set in and that will be the end of the mushrooming.

Chanterelles trying to hide from me

I’m ashamed to admit that I was a bit out of shape, but I managed to scamper uphill and down for about four hours. By the end of three and a half hours I noticed that I was falling down frequently, tripping over sticks because I wasn’t lifting my dragging feet high enough.

I took one bad spill that sent me flying into the soft moss. No harm done except for a stick that just missed my eye and stuck me in the bridge of my nose. I carried on for a while, tripping a few more times, finally coming to the conclusion that it was time to call it a day.

As I bent down to pick one last scattering of chanterelles, my bear spray, which I always pack with me just in case, had slipped around to the front of my fanny pack belt. As I slid it back to the side, I noticed that the guard on the cap was missing. It must have popped off when I took that bad tumble. I wondered how dangerous it was to stumble around with the bear spray unlocked. Wouldn’t want to pepper spray myself accidentally. I had never had occasion to use it and had no idea how much pressure was needed to depress the lever. Was it as easily pressed down as the nozzle on a can of hairspray, or more resistant like a lever on a fire extinguisher? One way to find out.

Bear spray with belt loop, and safety tab on lever

Safety tab taken off.

Gingerly I touched the lever. Nothing happened. I applied a little more pressure. Still nothing. A little more, just a quick press and release. Whoosh! What a blast from a quick jab on the lever. I was impressed. Very satisfied that it would indeed reach a bear if one ever dared come close enough to check out my mushrooms, I put the bear spray back on my belt and was careful not to touch it again.

But then it occurred to me that there was no pepper smell at all. Would it even faze a bear if one ever came around? The most I had ever seen while out mushroom picking was a pile of bear droppings, so I wasn’t seriously worried, but still, the whole idea is that the pepper spray should be a deterrent.

The cloud of spray had dissipated by now so I took a step or two in the direction of the affected area. My next breath made the discovery. Just like a bruin would, I turned and stumbled back up the hill a few steps, bent over double, trying to keep my lungs inside my body as I convulsed with violent coughing. I felt as if I had inhaled a jar full of chopped jalapeno peppers. Now I know what the bear would feel like.

That evening I fried a panful of chanterelles in butter, added a sprinkle of salt and a dash of white wine and sat down to enjoy the savoury side dish with the rest of my supper. My husband enjoyed them too but he discreetly reached for the pepper grinder. Selfishly I hadn’t added any pepper to the dish. I’d had enough pepper for one day.

29 thoughts on “Pass the Pepper Please

    • I was shocked at the power of the pressure. It really flew out there. But now I need to worry about whether the can will maintain that pressure, since I’ve “cracked the seal.” It gives you an idea how good the chanterelles are when you hear that I go out picking. I’m the biggest ursaphobic I know. The only things that scares me more than bears are spiders.


  1. Hurray! The bear spray works! Good to be nosy sometimes – now you know how it works. I don´t blame you if you won´t use pepper on your food for a little while. Just not fair to do it to bears – haha – but I don´t blame you for this either. Here we don´t have to fear bears, just wild boars. They can be dangerous if you cross the way of a mother with her “kids”. And we are too old to climb a tree in a hurry. Isn´t mushrooming such an adventure? We love it too!


  2. I am just thankful that the only “weapon” you tested was the bear spray and not anything worse than that! At least now you will know to watch out for any residual spray in the air if you have to use it. You don’t want to hinder your own getaway if you accidentally breathe that stuff in! Yikes!


    • You probably don’t have mushrooms either, but supposing you were out picking…whatever….cactus? … then maybe you’d need dingo spray, or if you were in the jungly parts, picking fruit, you’d need snake spray, or Spider-off.


  3. What a nice story from the forest, Anneli (except for tripping over). I have been picking mushrooms since I was a child and it is one of my favorite things too do, of the same reasons you mention. This year there were hardly any, for the first time in my life. Interesting to hear you carry a pepper spray. I don’t think they are legal in Norway, but I wish they were, because no there are bears in our forest too. Not many, but enough so that I don’t enjoy it as much as before. There were no bears around here for about 100 years…


    • Believe me, you’d need a gooooood head start. Bears look like they’re slow, but I’ve seen them dash across our backyard (we live near the edge of town) and they’re amazingly fast. Fortunately they don’t bother us much here on the island. I think the bears of the interior of BC are more used to hunting “meaty” things and are a bit more aggressive, but on the coast they have all the fish they want to eat they aren’t very interested in people as a food source. But still… I wouldn’t want to be without my bear spray. It’s more like a baby’s soother for me. Makes me feel better to have it.


      • I can’t agree with you more… I do remember seeing a photo portfolio that one of the pros put together of bears fishing in the rivers… it made my mouth water at the thought of being able to make such capture, but I think one needs to know your subject and their nuances and signs…
        We had an incident in one of our game reserves where a visitor thought it quite fun to get up real close to a bull elephant that was feeding next to the road… before they could do a thing the found themselves in an upside down car… from what I heard from people that know better the elephant gave all the signs of being unhappy with the proximity, and being ignorant to the fact they suffered the consequence… I commented on the post… I simply said… “we’re not playing with pets here, they are wild animals.” and I should imagine that bears are much of a likeness… So beware Dear friend, have your spray near by and learn the language of the wild…


  4. For sure, I have a lot of respect for bears. They usually keep their distance and head for the hills when they hear people around, but it’s always good to be prepared. Your elephant story reminds me that tourists do the stupidest things. In our parks where it’s not unusual to see bears, tourists get out of their cars to photograph and feed them. Stupid!!! We have signs that say, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” because the bear gets used to people and then it becomes a “problem bear” and has to be destroyed.
    Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting.


  5. You have taken ‘shroom hunting to a brand new level! I had no idea it could be so exciting! (I love that first photo, by the way!) Not a bad test of the spray at that. I carry it too when in Grizzly country and prefer not having to use it!


  6. Oh, you don’t know the half of it. When I first enter the woods, I break the silence with my yell (which you may recognize from Lawrence of Arabia), “No prisoners!” Some of those mushrooms are very sneaky. They pull a leaf over their heads or try to crawl under a rotten log. I’m glad to hear that you carry bear spray. I love your outdoor photos but bears are always on my mind when I see those lonely trails. I also prefer not having to use bear spray. C-c-c-can shaking hands depress that lever?


    • Actually it was good experience for you to give it a test. I just got some spray last year. I always carry a revolver and I’ve carried it for over 30 years and thousands of miles. When it comes right down to it I wonder which I will go for first (I think I know).

      I consider a problem with a bear to be a very small chance, certainly much less likely than a problem with highway traffic, and being prepared will sure mitigate any problem.


  7. Cool åpost Anneli.

    I am using USB Wireless Internet Stick until December Sunday the 9th, 2012. Reason to it is that we sold our old home after living there 19 years and now we are living in a temporary home before moving to our new home. The connection is not working perfectly and the connection goes off from time to time. I hope that You understand why comments are short until that day I mentioned above. Thank you for your patience and understanding.


  8. Maybe next year after my foot heals I’ll be back stumbling over the logs looking for shrooms.. i miss not having a few in the freezer for those great stir-fries.


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