A barred owl lured me into the woods yesterday evening near Heart Lake in the Anacortes Forest Lands. “Who cooks for you. Who cooks for you all,” provides the correct pattern of this species of owl’s call, but it doesn’t do justice to the super soft, spectacular sound. I grabbed my camera and headed out in hopes of getting a glimpse of this bird while photographing some of the many mushrooms I’d encountered on recent trail runs in the area.
Last winter, I became obsessed with mushrooms and when I was trying to learn as much as I could about the many types and varieties of these fungal growths, I reached out to a local expert named Ida Gianopulos who recommended one of mycologist David Arora’s books, All That the Rain Promises and More, subtitled A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. It’s information-packed, and familiar with most mushroom fans. What I loved most about it was Arora’s three paragraph take on rain.
Here they are, interspersed with some of the photos I took over a period of about an hour during a three mile walk on the trails. Because it was late in the day, I set my DSLR film speed to 1600, got close to my subjects and tried to take shots from eye level whenever possible. Afterwards, I cropped and made basic light and color edits only.
“I used to think that I needed the sun to have fun. Rain was an inconvenience, something to wait out, not wade in. The farmers needed it. I didn’t. Rain meant I couldn’t do things. It was the enemy of activity, the bane of beach barbecues, an imposition from above that didn’t have the courtesy to call ahead.
Mushrooms changed all that. Now when it rains, I can’t wait to get out, to plunge into that pristine, misty realm of glistening freshness and fleeting fragrance to see what new wonders the earth has to offer. The miracle of mushrooms is in their spontaneity and resilience. Springing from the ground that looked so hard and bleak, them seem to embody all that we carry, and bury, inside us: secret passions and dormant dreams awaiting inspiration, instigation, and conditions that precipitate growth. Rain has become my catalyst, drawing me up, bringing me out.
I still savor the sun — who doesn’t? Rain refreshes, sunshine caresses. But as I bask in the hazy glow of another lazy summer day, my life feels as empty as the sky above, and as surely as the shivering survivors of winter look forward to the spring, I find myself yearning for clouds returning, all that the rain promises, and more…”
At the end of the hour, I’d not seen my owl, but I’d heard and seen other birds, like the towhee, varied thrush, a tiny wren and heron’s croaking call high above that sounds a bit like a wild pig. I saw a half dozen squirrels, several tried to scare me away with their surprisingly complex sound. Dragonflies, banana slugs and snails were hung around as well.
As the sunniest summer I remember of the eleven we’ve spent on Whidbey Island comes to a close, I confess I am a little sad, but I’m excited too as fall and the rainy season begin at the thought of all the mushrooms I’m likely to encounter in the Anacortes Forest Lands and at Deception Pass State Park.
During my obsession, I learned about the Langdon Cook’s entertaining book The Mushroom Hunters, and raced through it. It covers such subjects as: mushroom hunting/hunters and collecting/collectors (chanterelles, porcini, black trumpets, boletes, truffles!), a mushroom competition, mushroom sellers/buyers, descriptions of mushroom-containing dishes, David Arora (p 229), “…his book Mushrooms Demystified is largely responsible for introducing recent generations to the charms of mushroom hunting,” and a bunch of stuff about fungi (p 5), “All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms.” The format reminds me most of a book I love – the Good Rain by Timothy Egan, in that each chapter could sort of stand-alone.
This fall, I missed out on a chance to take Ken Jacot’s class Mushrooms of Our Nearby Woods, but lucked out in learning about Oak Harbor Public Library’s free two-hour talk Choice Edible Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest and Beyond with David Winkler. It was excellent, with Winkler’s humor apparent as he shared his knowledge about mushroom collecting locally and abroad as well as a lot about different types of mushrooms and how and where to find them. Except for the constant chatter of a too young kid that her mom brought along, the talk was brilliant for the twenty of us who attended. A week later, I lucked upon another event, this one by Harold Meade and Maggie, at the Anacortes Public Library. They spoke in detail about the biology of mushrooms, and provided photos showing the difference between edibles and look-alike varieties. The best (and worst) was the way Meade explained what happens when someone eats a deadly variety. You eat the mushroom, and it tastes very good. The next day (and the next) you feel fine. But about the third day you start to feel sick. By that time, your liver is dead and you’ll need a transplant to survive! I’d proudly brought in a mushroom I’d seen everywhere recently in the ACFL. Meade agreed that it was a shaggy mane, then shared a sad fact: mushrooms aren’t to be removed from the ACFL. Between that and the scary story about poisonous mushrooms killing your liver, I’ll probably stick to foraying with experienced mushroom hunters and cook only mushrooms I’ve bought from the grocery store.