I don’t know a lot about fungi except that I like to eat them, and that there is some debate on whether they ought to belong to the plant or animal kingdom based on their respiratory system.
I did not eat mushrooms at all until I was an adult, working in Italy, and someone served me a plate-sized plant sautéed in butter and garlic.
I would have turned my nose up at the brown mass, easily confused with a cow patty, but I was trying to impress my date with my worldly palate. While I stopped going to eat with him, I didn’t stop eating mushrooms. It just goes to show that everyone along our journey serves a purpose.
Which was exactly what I was pondering as I was out hunting for morels last weekend with my person. He can be easily mistaken for a Sasquatch and had gone missing some time earlier in the hike. He does not have the outdoor prowess of mythical forest creatures, so I was mildly concerned that he may struggle to survive in the wilderness. We had already identified some mushrooms, though, so at least he wouldn’t starve to death.
There is something primal, therapeutic and rewarding about foraging for food, and I’m not sure why we don’t do more of it as a society. I suppose the risk of poisoning or hallucinating is rather valid.
We as a people have historically hunted, scavenged and foraged for nourishment. While one might argue for the benefits of agricultural development, it has created a clear separation between the eater and the harvester. I wonder if that ever-widening gap is serving us as individuals or a society. I suspect the opposite.
Kneeling on the forest floor, the world slowed down. I picked my way from tree to tree and noticed how the different angle of slopes lent to different growth of flora. I had never noticed that the little white flowers of this shape only grow on the north slopes and the white flowers of another shape prefer the south slope.
Though I often run the trail here, I have never noticed the cedar groves, the windfall or the peculiar patterns of plant growth just off the beaten path.
My mind wandered while my slow hunt carried me over the narrow ridge. There had not been any fires here for a long time, so I would not find some hallelujah field of morels. Every once in a while, I would stumble across one, then hopefully scour the area for more.
I started to look for a trend in where they liked to grow. Was it under tree fall? On these claylike lumps of soil? In the filtered sun or in the filtered shade? My little basket was getting filled enough for dinner, but I was not looking forward to sharing.
With any luck, I would not have to. Nearly an hour had gone by and I had not seen or heard my companion. Possibly he had been eaten by a bear, picked and chewed the wrong mushroom, or fallen off a cliff. Any of those would mean that all of the morels I had would be tossed in a pan of sizzling butter and then right down my very own gullet. Just so no one would suspect that I had anything to do with his demise, I started whistling halfheartedly for him from time to time.
Then it occurred to me that maybe he had found the mother-lode crop and the reason I had not seen him for so long was because he was crawling around the forest floor shoving morels in his own overflowing basket. I decided the likelihood was high enough that I should look for him in earnest.
Then I congratulated myself on having outdoor knowledge to find my way home or call for help. I also had the ATV keys. None of that was going to serve him, though, and I thought I should let him know to think better before he wanders off in the future. At least bring some moleskin or something.
When we reunited and combined our harvests, we had plenty of food for dinner and then some. We celebrated our find, cleaned and ate some mushrooms, and dried others in the sun for a different day. We had enjoyed an afternoon of solitude and companionship at the same time, relished in the flavors of our find, and had again been softly reminded of the abundance of nature and our connectedness to it. I can hardly wait for huckleberry season.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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