Mushroom Hunting with Apak, Bwana Spoons, Scrappers and Hazel (the dog)

It all started with an e-mail titled “Field Trip?” It ended with microscopic maggots wiggling in mushy mushroom (‘shroom) juice atop my kitchen counter.

Early on a Sunday morning Bwana Spoons (radical publisher, curator, artist and general nice guy) showed up at my house wearing a hunting cap, armed with a mushroom hunter’s guide. Soon after, Aaron and Ayumi (also known as “Apak the wonder-filled art duo”) drove up in a nondescript minivan. Hazel, my dog-friend, and the rest of us all jumped into the van and made our field-tripping way into the deepest reaches of Forest Park’s Wildwood trail.

Although the Wildwood trail is in a constant battle with invasive plants like Himalayan blackberry and English ivy, we found ourselves engulfed by native Elderberry, Creeping Oregon Grape, feather-like Cedar branches and titanic Doug Firs who seem to grow too big for their britches.

None of us had ever been mushroom hunting before, so each new ‘shroom that blossomed before us was utterly amazing. In order to hunt ‘shrooms, the hunter has to look at the world up close and tiny. Just like Hazel, we were on all fours looking and sniffing. Yes, sniffing!

Apparently there is this ‘shroom called a Matsutake, it can fetch over $20 a pound and smells a bit like cinnamon. So even Bwana (whose sniffer was clogged with snot) sniffed a lot that day. I think that I got a wee bit buzzed by sniffing something eco-groovy, but it’s impossible to tell because we probably sniffed over 20 types of ‘shrooms.

Identifying each strange and beautiful ‘shroom became the biggest part of our field trip. Shaggy parasol, earth star and Zellers bolete were among the few that we could find in Bwana’s guidebook. However, one such cluster that brought us to our knees was the Corpse Finder. Yep, these ‘shrooms are known for growing out of rotting dead people. The size and shape of the cluster gave way to the shape of a medium-sized mammal about Hazel’s size and shape. After the Corpse Finder cluster we pretty much gave up on the possibility of finding edible ‘shrooms.     

Crispy, crunchy autumnal leaves paved the trail, but joggers in reflective vests and squeaky sneakers kept our urban environment in sight. We ended up taking some of the Zellers bolete home because the guidebook labeled them as edible. Once Hazel and I were dropped off I turned on the stove and started melting butter in a pan. Unfortunately when I sliced the ‘shrooms open an odd juice oozed out onto the counter. Tiny maggots wiggled and twisted in infant ecstasy. Needless to say, I turned the stove off.

I think the mushrooms we took home might have been symbolic of some greater understanding or metaphor, but I don’t know what it means yet. Apak thinks, “It means that all is transient and the best way to enjoy nature is in the moment of experiencing it.” Yeah, that might be the lesson here. The magic of mushrooms is in their spontaneity and surprise. Or, the lesson might be “take a hike.”

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