The months of September to October are primetime for mushroom hunting. Chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, chanterelles, coral, oysters and puffballs are treasures beneath the canopy.
Foraging for these beauties means slowing down to observe the forest. What kind of trees are growing and how big are they? Is it dense, dark, and wet, or open, light, and airy? When was the last rain? How does it smell? Sometimes you can even smell when fungus is growing especially after a good long rain.
Using all of our senses while in the forest is an enlivening experience. It is a chance to practice our primal instincts. My ears perk up to rustles in the leaves as a squirrel buries its acorns. Slight shifts in the wind raise the hair on my body. Soft moist moss cools my internal heat from hiking up hill. I can simply turn my head in any direction to see what is above, below, behind and in front of me. My sharp vision and ability to zoom in and out allows me to change my depth perception.
This is why it is called mushroom hunting. Engaging all five senses in the woods is what humans have done since the beginning of our existence. It is how we found sustenance and escaped from danger. When I find an edible mushroom, my brain fills with chemicals that bring ecstatic bliss. My face transforms from serious focus to smiling joy. I often cannot hold back laughter. I have found treasure!
The grey/brown mushroom above is Hen of the Woods. This is one mushroom of 15 that I harvested. Each weighs between 3 and 8 pounds. That’s a lot of mushroom!
Once I have gathered more than I can eat or share with friends, I deliver the bounty to restaurants that support the local food economy. I am now exchanging a material with value. Nature’s generous gift has become a desirable product with a market price attached. I feel resourceful to be using my primal instincts of foraging and business skills at the same time.
Honoring the earth for providing our sustenance is key. When I forage, I always ask the plant or mushroom’s permission. I only take what feels appropriate and leave the rest for bugs and newts to enjoy. If the treasure is on private property, I ask the owner if I can harvest there.
Last week I passed up 15 pounds of Chicken of the Woods (the golden orange shelf mushroom seen in the these photos) because the property owner felt we ought to leave them for their beauty. It wasn’t easy to leave over $100 worth of bounty. But, I respected his decision and felt better about it in the end. Greed has caused most of the damage in the world today. Rather than betraying my neighbor, I took lots of photos to share with you all.