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.
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.
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.