Treasure in the Woods

Well, now, that’s enough of that citizen activist stuff. Too many hours in Town.

Yesterday I spent some time wetting my feet in the rainy woods, looking for a small reward. It’s mushroom time in the little hidden places. Last week I found a couple of nice messes of Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus)The Shaggy Mane mushroom

in my Usual Places (that’s a specific as a mushroom hunter ever gets). You have to be quick with Shaggy Manes. They appear, white and frilly, and almost immediately start to decay. You can see that the one on the right in this picture is darkening at the bottom. It won’t be delectable for long.  As it melts, releasing its spores on the way, it turns a watery, black ink color. Its other name, the one my mother used when I was a child, is “Inky Cap.” You take them when you see them, hurry home, and do them up in the sauté pan with a bit of butter. They don’t need much else. Serve them on buttered many-grain toast and you will launch into low-earth orbit.

Shaggy Manes favor grassy areas and open leaf litter places so, on my way to town in the afternoon I turned out at a little cemetery enclosed by woods. It was raining. It didn’t matter how high I stepped, my feet were wet through by the time I had crossed half of the low rise to the markers. I was scouting the margins for those white pillars, and not seeing any. Of course, most of the time a mushroom seeker does not see any. It’s like fishing, though. The worst afternoon mushrooming is better than the best afternoon doing much else. The air was fragrant with fallen leaves, rotting fruit, and woodsmoke from nearby farm houses. I detected a whiff of the many, many fungi pushing their way into secret, damp places. Rain pattered through the last leaves of maples. The fronds of Douglas Fir brushed each other in the breeze, making the soft sound of spirits shifting underneath. I love the afternoon light in the fall, how certain colors blaze in the grey of a drizzled day.

From the other side of the fence, a certain near-incandescent flash of gold caught my eye. A scatter of butter on the woods floor. From 50 feet away, I knew what they were: The Pacific ChanterelleCantharellus formosus, the Golden Chanterelle. One’s heart leaps to find a new patch of desired edibles. It’s pleasure made of a combination of recognition, sudden joy, and guilt.

Guilt, you ask?

Well, the mushrooms are always on the other side of the fence, you know.

That’s why we wear a coat, so we have something to throw over the top wire of a barbed fence.

Let me say now, if you choose to trespass in the chase, it’s an unspoken rule (of course it’s unspoken, given the circumstance!) that you come and go without trace. You do not hurt fences. You do not mess up the woods with your coming and going. If you get hurt, it’s your own thing; you weren’t supposed to be there anyway. You never open gates. You are swift and silent.

So, you toss your coat over the fence wire, step into the forbidden ground, pull your plastic bag from your pocket, and unsheath your mushroom knife. You move, bent low to the forest floor, among the mushrooms, slicing stems and stuffing bodies into the bag. You do not take time to count. You notice the bag is heavy now but, like a card player, you don’t count while you’re sittin’ at the table. You recite poetry in your head:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here…

And you remind yourself that it is always possible to ask for forgiveness. In fact, it might be a good idea, in a Karmic sense, to ask for it even if you don’t get caught.

The bag was heavy. The bag was beautiful. Here are its contents.

The bag

When I arrived home with the fruits of my trespass, I was not unwelcome. I was pretty wet, and a little cold. But I warmed later, when we had a dinner of rabbit slow-cooked with dried plums and figs in Marsala, and a side dish of Chanterelle with garlic in a little cream…

It was only the deer were going to eat them anyway.

Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I don’t mean to be crass, but I was just in COSTCO where a pound of chantarelles was priced at $8.99. I’d guess there were about 20# in that bag you brought home. We’ve been eating mighty high on the hog (that’s where the tenderloin is, in case you wondered where that saying comes from.)

    Well now, that was crass, wasn’t it? Chanterelles at $8.99; finding them in the woods: priceless. 😎


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