I am somewhere in the Coast Range, picking my way through waist-high ferns on a steep hillside. I’m moving slowly, only occasionally looking up to make sure I haven’t gone completely off the map. I’m waiting for a flash of gold in the duff, which may or may not ever appear. Mushrooms are, as they say, where you find them.
The Search for Lobster Mushrooms
These fungal mysteries are an expression of a layered, fugal complexity of interactions, and they defy hunters’ predictions. The narrow draw that was filled with brightly colored chanterelles or lobster mushrooms on this day last year may now offer nothing.
The fact that many wild mushrooms are not cultivated indicates the intricacy of their requirements. They are ripples on the surface of a deep ecological sea, coming out and vanishing to a choreography we hardly understand.
Chanterelles are the hang-your-hat-on mushroom in the Coast Range. They are fairly easily found, and are readily identified with a little education. Their golden coloration stands out in the mossy, dark areas they inhabit.
Lobster mushrooms, however, are what I really hope to find when I go looking. They are a striking bright red color, and they actually taste like crab or shrimp. A lobster mushroom is not a part of just a single fungus, but a fungus that is parasitized by another fungus. Maybe that’s why I think they are so special.
There are many other kinds of mushrooms to be found, but they are either rare or easily mistaken for poisonous species, so I basically just go looking for these varieties. On this day, however, I find almost none. It has been too hot and dry, and I find only one good chanterelle.
I do, however, stumble on a downed log that is covered in a profuse growth of chicken of the woods mushrooms. I cut one huge, bright orange mass from the log and squirrel it away in my bag. I’m not leaving empty-handed, but this is a lot less than I’m used to finding.
I guess that’s how mushrooming goes, though. I learn things every time I go. Sometimes I learn about how to find mushrooms better, and sometimes it’s something less explicit, something about the depth of nature and the symphonic chaos of the web in which I find myself.
All of this has happened before; apes have long wandered these hills searching for fungi, and paused to contemplate their strange world, going home with armloads of food and puzzled looks on their faces.
The Time for Mushrooming is Now
Fall is the time to go mushrooming. They can be found at other times, but this is the most reliably productive time for chanterelles and lobster mushrooms.
If you want to try it, I recommend finding a person that knows what they are talking about. The internet is not a reliable stand-alone resource, and neither are books. Consider forming a Meetup Group in town or, if you don’t mind traveling, check out the Cascade Mycological Society in Eugene.
Good mushrooming decisions come with experience and measured consideration of a diverse set of sources. There are deadly mushrooms out there. I don’t let that keep me from going, but I make sure to identify anything beyond doubt before eating.
Mushroom hunting is incredibly rewarding. Beyond the obvious culinary rewards, there are those of a more esoteric nature that are available to those who will go looking. At the very least, walking into the bushes with open eyes is never a mistake, and will never leave you hungry.
If you are interested in learning more, the Avery House Nature Center is offering a Family Mushroom Hunt event on Sunday, November 5. Details can be found here: http://www.
By Scott Bittner