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. You don’t agree? You wonder why I wouldn’t rather follow a smooth man-made path through a park? It’s a classic case of “The end justifies the means.” The elusive chanterelle mushroom is worth it all.
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 peaceful in the woods. On the spongy moss of the forest floor I looked carefully at everything around me not wanting to miss finding these aromatic peach-coloured mushrooms. In my search, I noticed things I would otherwise have missed. 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 tempted me to pick them, but I knew not to touch them. Two lonely huckleberries were left on a bush. Who could have browsed the rest? A black bear? In spite of my ursaphobia I was hooked on mushrooming and went back into the woods many times after my friends introduced me to this wonderful hobby.
There are other creatures in the woods besides mushroom pickers. I’ve seen wolf sign on the logging roads. And there is always the possibility of seeing a cougar, especially if you have a small dog along to tempt the cat, but in the many years I’ve spent mushrooming, I’ve never seen a wolf or cougar out there sharing my picking territory. Still, it’s a good idea to carry bear spray just in case. Don’t let these things unnerve you. It’s beautiful and silent in the woods. Very peaceful for the soul. I’m always happy after a day of mushroom picking. If I hadn’t made the effort I would have remained unaware of these subtler beauties of nature.
Most mushrooms have a look-alike that is highly likely to be inedible if not poisonous. I’m careful not to pick any mushroom I’m not sure of. It’s always best to go with an expert until you learn to identify your mushrooms beyond doubt. Have them sort through your mushrooms before you take them home to make sure you don’t have any poisonous ones hiding in the bag. The rule of thumb for mushroom identification is, “If in doubt, throw it out.”
Before you go out into the woods, make sure you have a buddy. It’s never a good idea to go alone. Here is a list of the basic gear and supplies I take with me. In a large fanny pack, I put a simple first aid and survival kit together. Bandaids, tensor bandage (in case of a sprained ankle), small scissors and tape, a lighter (in case I need to make a fire), pocket knife, bear spray, a whistle (in case I get lost), mushroom scissors or a small paring knife, flagging tape, large plastic garbage bag to wear if lost in bad weather, and a good, reliable compass. It’s a good idea to put your car keys in a very safe place where they won’t get lost. You can read about one of my mushroom adventures involving lost keys here.
GPS is very nice but in the woods under a dense canopy of fir trees the GPS doesn’t get a signal. There is also rarely a cell phone signal. This is why a compass is so important.
Gaiters are a wonderful invention and are ideally suited for walking through the wet underbrush where chanterelles can be found. Wearing gaiters helps keep the fir needles out of your boots and keeps your pants dry from knees to ankles. Be aware that when everything is damp, as it must be for the best mushroom picking, fallen logs can be slippery. You’d swear someone had slathered grease on them. Use caution.
Chanterelles are often found on slopes where fir trees grow and the undergrowth is less than waist deep. Ideally there is a lake or river at the bottom of the hillside. This type of watershed is likely to support chanterelles. If you find yourself wandering into areas of deciduous growth, your chances of finding chanterelles decrease dramatically.
Be sure to bring a picnic lunch as you’ll work up a healthy appetite. The nearby lake or river may be a perfect spot for a picnic. If it starts pouring rain, sit in your vehicle to have your lunch and enjoy listening to the rain on the roof. If you go mushrooming on a rainy day, be sure to bring a change of clothes.
All the effort of going out into the woods to hunt for mushrooms is worth it. After you’ve had adventure, exercise, and fresh air, you’ll have a prize bag of chanterelles to go with an omelette or a juicy steak for supper.
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