Shrooming in Oregon

Dead ferns, mushrooms, and moss.

Dead ferns, mushrooms, and moss

I inadvertently did some mushroom hunting while in Oregon on a fire assignment. By inadvertently I mean that I did not literally go hunting for mushrooms the way that permitted mushrooms hunters do, but I was looking for them while walking through the forests of Mount Hood. The first time I heard the phrase ‘mushroom hunting’ was when I read, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” I liked the way it sounded. I liked how the word ‘hunt’ suggested something intentional and that requires skill. Plus, I love mushrooms, and the idea of hunting for them brings visions of old world, folk wisdom passed down from generation to generation that makes me feel connected to something traditional and timeless.

Ortega y Gasset said of hunting that it offers us our last best chance to escape history and return to the state of nature, if only for a time – for a vacation from the human condition. Gasset was talking about hunting animals, but I believe that any hunting, whether for physical, recreational, or spiritual sustenance, produces the same thing. He said:

When one is hunting, the air has another, more exquisite feel as it glides over the skin or enters the lungs, the rocks acquire a more expressive physiognomy, and the vegetation becomes loaded with meaning.

Thinking about mushroom hunting brings images to mind of people stalking the small and elusive fungi, slinking in the shadows ready to pounce, snatch them up, and throw them into their baskets to either be sold at the market or sauteed for dinner. It’s a funny phrase. We don’t hunt wild raspberries, we gather them. But all humor and ignorance aside, after looking for mushrooms in a forest, I understand why it is not called mushroom gathering; those suckers are hard to see – at least if you don’t have the right eyes to see them with – and they can be poisonous, which makes finding the right ones a honed skill. As Micheal Pollan said, “Mushrooms are mysterious.”

Colors beneath our toes

Colors beneath our toes

I believe that in order to fully appreciate different localities and geographical places one has to have the right eyes. Having the right eyes requires learning about the place, spending time in it, adapting to it, and delving into it. I am acutely aware of this process because of how often I hear people refer to the desert as ugly; they have not grown the mature vision to appreciate it – they can’t “see” it. The desert is stunning, dynamic, dangerous, and in a constant state of flux, but you have to stick around and get out in it for a while to see all the layers and changes, both subtle and sudden. Time is the essential ingredient. You can’t be a tourist to fully appreciate a place.

The tourist sees broadly the great spaces, but his gaze glides, it seizes nothing, it does not perceive the role of each ingredient in the dynamic architecture of the countryside. Only the hunter, imitating the perpetual alertness of the wild animal, for whom everything is danger, sees everything and sees each thing functioning as facility or difficulty, as risk or protection.”

So visiting Oregon from the desert, I was immediately aware of my shallow vision for appreciating forests. All I could see were trees and when I looked for mushrooms, they eluded me. In fact, on several occasions I was astonished to hear after hiking through the woods with a local firefighter that he had seen many mushrooms. That was why the first time I noticed one on my own I was ecstatic. I’m not sure if any of the mushrooms I came across are edible, but they were beautiful. I am certain that if I spent more time in Oregon I would grow forest eyes and see all the depths and layers that exist in them and perhaps grow up to be a fierce mushroom hunter. But until then these desert eyes of mine will have to hunt mushrooms in the desert sky islands of the southwest if and when I can get to them.

Even though the hunt takes place during a brief vacation from modern life, what occurs in the space of that electrifying parenthesis will ever and always be… authentic.

Micro-scale world

Micro-scale world


Posted on October 14, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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