“Mmmmm,” sighed The Resident Carpenter-Blacksmith in happy satisfaction, “That’s the sound of mushrooms growing.”
The blessed rain was finally FINALLY coming down, spattering windows and clearing the obnoxious, lung-clogging firesmoke that’s turned Oregon breathing into a cautionary tale. And it has an added benefit: Rain grows mushrooms.
“Bring on the RAIN!” I gleefully agreed.
I’ve officially assumed the mantle of Mushroom Hunter (or, probably more accurately, Mushroom Assistant). We seek mushrooms in Nathan’s favored spots, high up in a mountainous state forest, past the old logging roads. Yesterday, as we chased chanterelles, I paused precariously on a mossy stump, reflecting on the last four years.
Happy crashiversary, folks
Four years ago I was lying painfully in a hospital bed, terrified that I’d never walk again.
Three years ago, my first crashiversary, I’d finally won a chance to keep my left leg, after a year of fighting poor medical judgment and stubborn insurance. I’d left the safe cocoon of my mother’s home and was about to head to the Bay area for three months of grueling surgeries and recoveries.
Nathan, horrified that The Resident Workaholic (i.e., me) had lived 14 years in Portland yet only visited the Oregon coastline twice, stopped my pre-op prep to bundle me, wheelchair and all, into the car.
“You MUST see the ocean before you leave,” he’d said solemnly, and drove to the sea. Somehow, the waves calmed my fears and strengthened me for the rough journey ahead.
Two years ago, my second crashiversary, we went fishing. Nathan bought a boat, a little 13-foot zodiac, to honor his fishing addiction and my new-found ability to walk (mostly) without a cane. We trolled the Willamette for salmon.
The salmon weren’t interested, and getting The Leg into and out of a bouncy rubber boat was pure tragicomedy… but just being on the water was a victory.
This summer, after two years of embarrassing, painful boat-clambering, I had another breakthrough. We’d steeled ourselves for my usual fumbling flop into the zodiac, Nathan poised to catch me if I fell, me trembling with terror and determination.
Then I held up a hand and just stepped into the boat.
I don’t know what changed, or why I gave up my fears and stopped thinking about falling. I just..did it. We stared at each other for a few minutes, dumbfounded and smiling. Then we went fishing.
Last year, my third crashiversary, we scooped tuna from the deep sea, and went ‘shrooming.
We got enough chanterelles to pave the top of Nathan’s Suburban a couple of inches deep, satisfying our cravings for Hungarian mushroom soup, steak-smothering, and the RC-B’s signature mushroom spaghetti sauce.
I used the rest (about a bushel) for dried mushroom powder, much to Nate’s initital chagrin. But as the year wore on, and chanterelle powder added delicious umami to stews, soups, stroganoffs, and more, he came around.
THIS year, powder nearly gone, NATHAN suggested going back for more. Grizz, who will have his first birthday this week, has joined our forays.
Grizz loves the outdoors almost as much as he loves Nathan. By the time we reach a foraging site, he’s nearly hysterical, screaming to get OUT of the car and roam. Freed, he bounces wildly through the understory, leaping logs and plunging into streams.
We’re hoping to use his incredible powers of scent to hunt mushrooms–that dog can smell a T-R-E-A-T (he can spell, too) 100 feet away. At the moment, though, bulldozers are more delicate than our tromping, stomping puppy. When we bend to pluck a virgin patch of chanterelles, Grizz whomps through the middle, trampling them to mush.
“I am water,” Nathan says, desperately, “I conform and rise above. When Grizz destroys mushrooms, I just…flow past. Serene… Calm… DAMMIT GRIZZ! GET OFF!!!”
Good thing we struck the motherlode.
The weather’s been unseasonably warm and dry this year, compounded by fires, so mushroom season is late. We typically find chanterelles in September, but the forest was still summer-dry, dessicated and ‘shroomless. We had a leeetle rain at the end of the month, tried again last week and found…two tiny chanterelles, just budding to the surface.
This week, after days of steady rain, we had high hopes. Like all good Oregonians, we ignored the pattering rain, pulled up the hoods on our dayglo-bright-coats, and set out for ‘shrooms. We’re late enough that deer season has started–we wear bright artificial colors so hunters don’t mistake us for shootable things, and Grizz sports a dayglo-orange harness. We clambered over rocks and fallen trees to the sounds of rifle fire in the distance.
The Leg can reliably bend to about 75 degrees, which limits my ability to climb steep banks. We forage in the Oregon wildlands, high up past the logging roads; these aren’t your tame, paved parklands, and the mossy, vine-strewn slopes quickly become too much for me.
I’ve invested in a set of trekking poles, which give me two extra points of stability and the ability to test the ground before I commit. The poles turn my uncertain forays into striding, problem-solving hikes. Still, Nathan carefully blazes my trails and removes obstacles. “Don’t come THIS way–go over there where it isn’t so steep, and use that log for balance.”
Of course, Nathan and Grizz range far ahead of my laborious pace. He’ll periodically shout or send Grizz back to find me to make sure I’m alright, but I follow slowly on my own, keeping my eyes on the ground for ‘shrooms and treacherous footing.
“Better than physical therapy,” Nathan assures me, and he’s probably right. I’ve learned to let The Leg lead in difficult situations, which needs an inordinate amount of trust from Good Leg. It’s paying off; on this trip The Leg came close to a 90-degree flexion, first time since I fell.
Each little obstacle I overcome strengthens my ability to tackle the next.
I was painstakingly negotiating a giant fallen log–push aside the banana slugs, put Good Leg over, lie back, flip The Leg into the air and rolllllllllll to the other side–when I heard Nate shout, “OH MY GOOODNESS. I’VE FOUND THEM. THESE ARE THE BIGGEST @#*@@#) CHANTERELLES I’VE EVER SEEN!!! LOTS OF THEM!!”
I righted myself and sped (well, lumbered) toward the sound.”Coming!” I shouted…but stopped. “ME TOO!”
There, glowing sun-bright like that yellow-orange crayola that always gets eaten–was a large chanterelle cluster. The rain was coming down hard enough now that it even got past the sheltering trees, but I didn’t care. I was picking ‘shrooms! They were literally all over the place.
We named our find Mushroom Hill. Or maybe Fungal Fantasy. We found chanterelles. Melt-in-the-mouth boletes, AKA “porcini mushrooms.” Russulas. Chicken-in-the-woods (“I THINK,” Nathan cautioned, “We don’t eat them until I verify.”) They were growing out of stumps, peeking from fern groves, nestled in piles of decomposing bark.
He even found psylocibin cubensis AKA “magic mushrooms,” and brought one back to show me. It was an unassuming little creamy umbrella with a toast-colored top, looking too meek to cause so much fuss. I wondered what would happen if I swallowed it…naaah.
Normally, we pick the ‘shrooms dry, but our basket was filling rapidly and we had more than enough for cooking and drying. We contented ourselves with taking only the best, most pristine specimens, leaving the babies and oldie-moldies. We plucked a few boletes for testing, just to make sure they were good enough, but left the russulas. “Lots of people like them, but they’re harder to identify, and even the best ones,” Nathan explained, “Taste like old seafood.”
Even so, we took home more than 8 pounds of these golden nuggets of deliciosity. And this year, we CUT the chanterelles at the base of the stem, instead of plucking them out of the ground.
Pulling up a chanterelle pulls up a lot of dirt and detritis too, and when you plop it in the basket it quickly transfers that stuff to the other chanterelles, making cleaning difficult. Cutting the stems (AKA “stipes”) reduced our cleaning chores by about 90 percent.
Good thing, because about an hour after we got home, Nathan’s sauce was underway and I was cleaning mushrooms, chopping onions, and slicing sourdough for a spaghetti dinner. He sweated about two pounds of cleaned chanterelles on the stove until most of the water was gone, leaving concentrated shreds of flavor.
Nathan’s spaghetti recipe is probably the best I’ve ever tasted, and it’s continuously evolving. (let me know if you want the recipe) This time, he added a pound each of hot Italian sausage, ground chuck, and bacon, cut into tiny cubes. The chanterelles went in, along with about eight sliced storebought button mushrooms (mostly because they needed to be used).
A few cans of crushed, unsweetened tomatoes, some minced raw onion, and a lot of spices rounded things out. It simmered for maybe an hour before we chowed down on amazingly tasty foragers’ spaghetti.
The RC-B tends to make a few gallons of sauce at a time, and it’s singularly meaty-chunky, but it’ll never see a freezer. Nathan can pretty much single-handedly eat the whole thing in a week.
Watching him down a giant plate of spaghetti for breakfast is a sight to behold. The batch you see in the photo was made Saturday night; by Sunday night it was half gone.
I’d add more to this post, but dinner’s ready. Mushrooms forever!