Fungal Fugitives

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. Remember those words from Robert Frost? Here on the West Coast, the woods are lovely, dark, and deep and full of moss and ferns.

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And fungi that grow on trees…

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And fungi at ground level that grow like Medusa’s hairdo.

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When I go mushroom picking, looking for chanterelles, I’m well aware that the elusive fungi do not want to be found. But I am determined and singleminded when it comes to mushrooming. My mushroom picking friends think I’m crazy because I told them I often think of the part in the movie of Lawrence of Arabia where Lawrence “loses it” and decides to get right into the bloodthirsty killing part of the battle. As he gives the attack signal to his Arab army, he lets out a chilling scream, “NO PRISONERS!”

Well, if you remember that scene, you’ll have an idea how I feel the moment I step off the logging road and into the forest. I point with my mushroom-cutting scissors and charge up the hill in search of the simple-minded creatures who are now hurriedly pulling bits of moss and leaves over their mushy heads.

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See them all ducking for cover? Some near the top are pulling salal leaves over themselves. Others are grasping for mini moss ferns.

Yet others stand bravely, thinking they are camouflaged by the nearby yellowing salal leaves.

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As I sneak through the woods, a little wren gives up her hiding place and flutters to a log about ten feet away. She gives me the evil eye and says, “I’m telling!” She squeaks and croaks in that raspy wren voice and as she flits over the fern patches, I hear her calling to the chanterelles, “Krrrrkk! Krreeek! She’s coming. Run for your lives.”

I would translate her first two words for you, but they’re mere sound effects, telling the world about the state of my knees after climbing up, along, over, and under the many fallen logs that stand between me and my (not) prisoners.

I hear the Mush Heads responding in hushed voices, “Battle formation! Fall in.” And they do. Some fall into holes under logs. Others fall into crevices.

“Help! My foot’s stuck under a rock,” Junior Mush Head calls.

“Tough,” Grandpa Mush Head answers in a  slimy voice. “I’m mush too far gone to help you.”

“Here,” says Grandma Mush Head from the cover of her rotten log. “Pull a leaf over your head.”

“Thanks, Grandma, but what about the babies?”

“Don’t you worry about them. They’re all deep under their baby moss blankies. They’ll be fine as long as none of them gets curious and sticks a button nose out.”

So it seems the forest floor is still and all Mush Heads have disappeared.

But just in case you’re now thinking that I’m some deranged maniac, thundering through the woods uttering blood-curdling shouts of, “Ahaaa!! Now I’ve got you,” and “I sees ya!” (or is that, “I seize ya”?) I do want you to know that I have a refined side as well. Poetry enters my head quite often when I’m mushrooming.

When I’m wandering through the bush, I often find that others of my ilk have been here before me, tromping down paths that follow the easiest way through the moss jungle. When I catch myself mindlessly following the beaten track where nothing new is likely to meet my scrutinizing gaze – only the trunks of previously felled Mush Head bodies – I realize – “I have to get off this path!”

Sometimes it’s easier to go around a tree on the tidier side, but I decide to crash through the mass of branches on the other side. Here’s where the poetry comes in.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler,long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, (well, maybe not quite)

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear; (actually more than grassy – thick brambly bush is more like it)

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same, (not nearly)

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black. (well, that part is just plain not true)

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood,and I– I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost must have been a mushroom picker. He knew that when you choose the path less traveled by, you find the mushroom that is hiding there. The one that all the others, going by the other path, have missed.

So as I chop the poor little guy’s leg off, I smile and say,  ” I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Okay, that’s all very fine, but this less traveled by business can  be carried a bit too far. There’s a limit to how far most people will go for a mushroom and the Mush Heads know this.

What a perfect hiding place in plain sight lies beyond these trees. This is definitely a “Road Not Taken.”

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See the Mush Heads smirking at me from under the big logs, chanterelling, “Nah, na-na-NA, nah.”

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They hadn’t counted on meeting me, Mrs. Lawrence, still half crazed in her need to kill Mush Heads. For a few seconds I hesitate, considering what would be involved in calling an ambulance to treat two broken legs. Then I remember there’s no cell phone coverage out here anyway so I might as well go for it and wipe the smirk off those taunting fungal faces. I must admit I was glad I wasn’t on Candid Camera as I clawed my way over and under those logs, grunting as I whacked off Mush Heads and ripped others out by the roots when I couldn’t reach them any other way. Cruel and unusual punishment…but I survived it.

Enough now. My friends wrestle me to the ground and tell me it’s time to just “let it go” and “relax” and we’ll have some lunch. We sit on a log by the lake. The tarp on the log was a good idea for keeping our fannies dry. One of the friends notices a pow-wow going on nearby.

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Or maybe it’s more like a healing circle. See the little guy in the center getting advice from his elders? To the far left, one of the old timers has given up in frustration and just keeled over.

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My friends, newbies at mushrooming, are fascinated by these colourful spotted mushrooms. I have to work at convincing them that they really are not good to eat.

020“How can anything so pretty be bad for us?” they ask. “Are you sure?”

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“Yes, I’m sure. They’re called fly agaric mushrooms. They’ll kill you if you eat them.”

“No-o-o-o…that can’t be true.”

“Well, okay, I’m not sure if you’d die right away, but while you’re waiting to die, you would hallucinate and run around in the forest doing the roads not traveled by and yelling ‘No prisoners!'”

That was all it took to convince them.

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For a series of Christmas interviews with interesting people, please visit my other blog, Anneli’s Place, at http://annelisplace.wordpress.com

32 thoughts on “Fungal Fugitives

  1. You brave woman you… where did you learn which you can eat and which you can’t.?.. I come across so many mushrooms in my walks and just never know if they are edible or not.. and I sure won’t take the chance, for the very reason you gave for not eating the last ones you photographed…

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    • Not brave at all.Many, many years ago, I went out with friends a few times and we picked only chanterelles. Once I got to know what they looked like in all their phases, and learned what their look-alikes were, it was safe. I don’t try anything I don’t know for sure. Since learning about chanterelles I’ve learned to recognize the cauliflower mushroom (looks like a brain – even tastes a bit nutty!) and I know the boletus, but I mainly stick to chanterelles. What I’m more afraid of is seeing a bear, but I take bear spray with me and that guarantees I never see one.
      But you’re smart not to try any mushrooms you aren’t sure of. Sometimes you don’t get a second chance. You have to be sure.

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  2. OMG I don’t know where to start! Beautiful photos, intriguing and slightly ummm… slimy (some of them) at the same time. Lovely specimen of a ‘Fliegenpilz’, now I’ve got all sorts of Grimm’s fairy tales on the brain. And a craving for mushroom risotto. What a great feature and great title. Thank you!

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    • Fliegenpilz has a special place in my memories. My older cousin must have been 11 and I was 6 when we were in the “Fasching” parade. I was dressed as a Dutch Boy and she was a Fliegenpilz (fly agaric mushroom) with a big red cape with white dots.
      Be sure to put a different kind of mushroom in your risotto, Nicky!

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  3. I know nothing about mushrooms. These are real cool. Reminds me of a fantasy land like Alice in Wonderland or something. I know that many film companies use Vancouver for shows. I think the TV show Once Upon a Time films there. I know for sure Highlander filmed there. The woods look like an enchanted forest.

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    • It’s very quiet in there and so good for settling a frazzled mind. When you have too much on your “To Do” list, it’s the perfect solution. I love being in the woods. It smells good and is a total feel-good environment. It does look like an enchanted forest, and feels like it too.

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  4. Anneli, What a lovely tromp through the soggy rain forest. I was with you the whole story! I should send you a photo I have of a lovely, smokey white translucent fingerlike fungi I took while hiking the Olympic Penninsula a couple of years ago. It fascinated me! Best, Renee

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  5. Aaaaah!! You found Fly Agaric! I’m so jealous. I’ve been hunting for those near here to no avail. Those Medusa ones are crazy too, maybe I will need to plan a trip to your neck of the woods next mushroom season to get access to more variety!

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  6. Well…not really. My mother always told me that was a no-no. But I do point them uphill before I start the climb, and I (mentally) do my “no prisoners” thing and smile to myself, thinking, “If my friends only knew how crazy I was, they’d turn and go back to the truck.”

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  7. You made me laugh – such an adventure 🙂

    Do you actually eat mushrooms you pick? I wouldn’t dare. I swear I wouldn’t know a veggie mushroom from a psychedelic drug.

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    • Yes, we eat chanterelles whenever we can get them. Once you’ve picked them you know what they look like – or, more importantly, what they don’t look like. And I always keep in mind, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

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  8. Oh Anneli, what beautiful pictures! I hope that I can walk properly again by the next mushroom season. By the way, our deer here love to nibble on the “Fliegenpilze” and from what I know its not deadly if you take a mini-piece yourself. I personally don´t recommand it.

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    • You’re right. It won’t kill you to eat a tiny bit, but it messes with your brain. It causes hallucinations, and I read somewhere that you’d need to eat about 15 caps for a fatal dose. Still I wouldn’t cook them up as a side dish with my roast beef. 😉

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