Mushroom Hunting with my Niece
September 22, 2022
Today, Therese and I went mushroom hunting in the woods. I hadn’t been out since last October so it was long overdue and great that Therese got me out there.
Instead of borrowing the ranger or a four wheeler to go across the fields to the woods, I had Therese drive us down the highway and pull off at where I thought the old snowmobile trail had been. We waded through tall weedy plants, ducked under tree branches and paused to plot our course. Clumps of horsetail and ferns populated the area, an emerald wood.
“Well, we could go up the trail over there or go up this ravine. Which one do you think we should do?” I asked.
“You know what, let’s go up the ravine, it looks challenging and therefore fun.”
“Okay,” Therese replied in full agreement and eagerness. I ambled up a pile of small boulders and fallen branches covered in moss and plants, struggling at first without being able to grab a hold of something to pull myself up and nearly losing my footing. Therese followed. I was thinking this was the really big ravine that Lexie, Isabel and I went up even though it didn’t look the same, but I reasoned it was because we hadn’t started at the bottom before and it had been April when everything looked different. We were practically rock climbing; fun and exhilarating. I paused momentarily on the ascent to observe the reptilian looking liverwort.
“Mushrooms!” Therese exclaimed, pausing to cut the small oysters off a boxelder tree, placing them into her bag. The stacked rocks were magical, moss and ferns cascading off of them, spiderwebs stretched between. A few leaves here and there. Passed by a few trees on the climb. Therese found a few more small oyster mushrooms. We carefully maneuvered around a tree and continued the steep, upward trek. Once I was up safely, Therese tossed up the bag of mushrooms. They nearly fell back down, I dove and bent backwards to grab them, almost falling over myself.
“Don’t jump over to save the mushrooms; they aren’t worth dying for.”
“Oh come on, you don’t think so? Why not?” I teased. Once Therese was up too, we looked around. “Wow, this is a really nice spot. I like it. This might be one of my new places.”
“Yes, it’s so lovely,” she agreed. We sat down on rocks to just take it in for a few moments.
I looked up into the leafy, green canopy, blue sky above, “I could sit here for hours, I think. I have a snack, water, and a journal; I am good.”
“I could too.”
We sat on the cold stones, soaking in the beauty. Chatting, unfortunately about death; it had been a rough couple of years for me. Therese was a good sport and understood I was struggling. This outing was a balm to me. I set aside these dark thoughts, focusing instead on enjoying my time in the woods with her.
After sitting for about ten minutes, Therese said, “I could stay here all day but I want to look for more mushrooms. We should keep moving.”
“Yeah, we should. And I am getting cold sitting here.” The spot sat in shadow. We stood up to continue our walk. More climbing, how delightful. The exposed bedrock we had to climb was about as tall as me, a bit taller. Moss encrusted a few plants here and there. Both sides of the narrow, shallow ravine were crowded with vegetation and trees. A small decaying log lay across the top of the ravine, from my perspective. Little trees on either side. I ambled up the rocks. Therese followed. Pausing, I observed the green, stringy moss feeding on the log.
“You know what, I don’t think this is the ravine Lexie, Isabel and I climbed.”
“I don’t think it is.”
“The big rock is missing and it isn’t wide or deep enough.”
“Hmm, I wonder where we are.”
“I am not sure. But it’s beautiful.”
“I thought the snowmobile trail was just to our left, but it can’t be if this isn’t the big ravine. Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” Over the log, we stepped up another foot or so of exposed bedrock, as the ravine continued onward up the hill. I turned around to look down the gully, the foliage making it impossible to see very far. So peaceful, minus the traffic on the road below. A peek through basswood leaves, I could see the tree cloaked bluff on the other side of the highway. A lot of young trees fill the hillside; still very green. The gully rocks seemed like they should have a stream tumbling over them.
We scrambled up a few more feet of the ravine, and paused to take in our surroundings. Where were we? The snowmobile trail should be on our left, correct?
“Which way should we go?”
“I don’t know.”
“Should we go west? I thought the snowmobile trail would be over there.”
I led the way, ducking under branches and weaving through skinny, small, young trees. We didn’t go very far before we stopped again.
“Hmm, this doesn’t look right. Maybe we should be going east instead.”
“Okay.” We turned around; Therese let me pass to take the lead. Across the stony ravine. Threading through bigger, older trees. Ferns here and there, ostrich and maiden hair. I looked up into the canopy a moment, sunlight filtering through the green, elm leaves. So peaceful. But where were we? Where is the huge ravine? Where is the snowmobile trail? How are we missing them? A small paper birch, the outer bark peeling off in curls. Several sharp-lobed hepatica (hepatica acutiloba) leaves squat on short stems at our feet. We paused to investigate a mushroom growing on a fallen log.
“It might be a sulfur shelf,” I said.
“But it’s too decayed. And bugs are eating it.”
“Yeah, we should just leave it.”
We continued walking. “Hmm, there’s a man-made trail there.”
“But I don’t think it’s the trail we’re looking for.”
“I don’t think it is either.”
“We could follow it, or we could turn around and go west instead.”
“Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe we go back west?”
“Yeah, let’s turn back around and try west. I have no idea where we are.” We traced our steps, sort of, back along a narrow, long log. Leaves were still green, clinging to the trees. We stepped over the log. I believe I observed wild ginger plants here.
“A mushroom!” Therese exclaimed.
“It looks like a lobster. It’s growing on the ground.” We bent over to look at it more closely. Not a lobster. It was too far gone to harvest anyway.
“I wish it was a lobster,” I said.
“It would have been cool.”
“There hasn’t been enough rain this year for mushrooms.”
“Yeah.” We stood under a beautiful oak tree. We turned around again, settling on east as our direction.
“It’s so beautiful,” Therese said.
“People think about the importance of bringing small children outside, into the woods to appreciate it but what about teenagers?”
“Well perhaps there’d be an interest in teenagers that appreciate the woods because they were brought into them as small children,” Therese said.
“That’s true, I have encouraged a love for the woods in you since you were young.” We returned to the trail we’d found a few minutes earlier. Therese marveled in the ferns. They have a light heartedness about them.
“Grandma said the fiddleheads of the ostrich ferns can be eaten, right? Can the others be eaten?” Therese asked.
“I am not sure, that’s more Grandma’s area then mine.” We fumbled down the slope a little to join the trail. Blue ribbon, mostly above our heads, tied to trees, angled down the slope, here and there, like giant spider webs. “What is it?” Therese asked.
“It’s for maple syrup. Kind of like a pipeline to get the syrup to collect at the bottom of the bluff. It’s kind of annoying it’s here all year round.”
“Yeah, it distracts from the beauty.”
The trail slopes uphill, gradually climbing the bluff. The undergrowth is still vibrant; I wonder, is it more dense in the spring? We stepped around a limestone rock protruding from the ground, encased in dark green moss. The tree spacing in this area lets the sunlight almost flood the floor. A few tall, older trees. The trail begins to curve around the bluff, and up. A large limestone boulder rests on the hillside above us, nestled among trees. Its sedimentary layers are evident.
“Perhaps this is the snowmobile trail and we’re close to where Jesse proposed.”
“It’s so romantic. And so beautiful in here. I would love it if my future boyfriend proposed to me in these woods.”
“Well it certainly is romantic and possible you could get engaged here.” We rounded the bend, dirt exposed on the “bank” above us. “I think we’re on the snowmobile trail and somewhere in here is where Jesse proposed.” I paused for a moment, it still doesn’t look quite right. “We’ll follow the trail to the pasture gate, then it’ll make more sense.” We continued upward, short on breath but still conversing. A naked log lay across our path, we paused to observe the patterns left behind by boring insects – cool but they’re destructive.
“There’s the fence and pasture gate!” I almost shouted. We drew up to the gate and peered through the opening in the trees. The azure sky was studded with cumulus clouds. Green pasture before us. Cornfield above it, wrapping around the contour.
“Wait this isn’t right. This isn’t the snowmobile trail, this is the wrong pasture. I have no idea where we are.”
“I think I know. Malachi and I have hunted here. Isn’t the other house right ahead of us, beyond the field?”
“I’m not sure. It could be more to the left or maybe far to the right, and our house is just to the left. I don’t know, I can’t place where we are. It doesn’t make sense. But we’re not lost, follow the pasture and eventually we’d figure it out and find the house.”
“Or go directly down the bluff to the road. I have no idea where we are, but we’re not lost.” Small, young, paper birch trees stood on our left, their white bark almost glowing where the sun hit them. We turned back, following the trail down the slope a ways. Taking in the beauty and peace of the trees. We left the trail, ambling eastward for several minutes, continuing to wonder where we were.
“Sadly, we should start heading back to the vehicle so you can get back home in time.” it was almost 11:30 am, we’d be cutting it close.
“I love going to choir but I wish I didn’t have to so we could stay in the woods.”
“Yeah, I wish I didn’t have to milk this afternoon/evening, and could just stay out here.” Reluctantly, we headed back westward. If we went west and down, we’d find the vehicle. We weren’t lost. I marveled in the maple trees of various age and size as we traversed the bluffside. So lovely. Horsetails grow in clumps in an area of bare soil. Branches and logs lay strewn here and there. The bluffside was steep; each step had to be taken with care. Our feet slid in the loose dirt and leaves. Therese had found nice paper birch limbs for us to use as walking sticks. This sort of terrain was my paradise. Therese was enjoying the adventure but nervous about the difficulty of the trek. She slipped and slid roughly a foot or two and let out a shriek. “I almost died,” she laughed.
“You’re fine. Even if we tumbled down, I don’t think we’d die. Just be sure to go feet first.” I kept walking, turned and added, “Just get low to the ground, maybe even scoot on your butt, then you’ll be less likely to get hurt if you slip.” I had already begun crouching low. Now this is an adventure.
“But these are my nice jeans.”
“Okay, then maybe you shouldn’t scoot on the ground. Your mom wouldn’t be too happy if you wrecked them.”
“Next time I should wear pants that can be beat up.”
“That would be a good idea.”
An intriguing rock outcropping sat ahead and above us. “Look at that rock,” I exclaimed.
I turned around to see how Therese was doing. She paused against a maple tree, leaning on her paper birch stick. “Stay right there, that will make a good photo.” I took several pictures. “Okay. Beautiful.” I also took a picture of the exposed bedrock on the hillside behind her. I just can’t believe I have these awesome woods to explore. Onward, picking our steps with care, slipping often. We paused to observe some red, firm berries, Jack-in-the-pulpit.
“They’re so pretty, but not edible,” Therese said.
I stepped down onto loose rocks near the rock outcropping. “Careful, and follow my lead,” I instructed Therese. The stones were covered in leaves and difficult to see. One shifted, tilting down, nearly knocking me off balance. “Okay, don’t step on that rock.” I gingerly stepped to the ground below. “I’ve got to check out the rock; it’s just too cool.”
“Okay, but don’t die in the process.”
“It might be worth it.” The massive monolith was coated with moss, some colonizing ferns, leaves here and there. I wanted to climb it somehow but that would be too much for Therese and she was already being dramatic about our steep route down the bluff. At least she was still having fun, though she worried our lives were in danger. She was practically crawling on the ground now as she picked her way toward the outcropping. Moss stones littered the bluff just below it. Therese spied a couple, nearly palm sized rocks that were interesting and wanted to take them with. We joked about those two rocks being worth the risk to our lives. Tree limbs and logs spilled over the outcropping. We continued to pick our way around and over the smallish boulders, careful to not go tumbling down. We passed more maple syrup lines, and a beautiful patch of maiden hair. And we were back on the bottom of the ravine we started from. Our steps were still chosen with care around rocks, boulders, branches and logs, along the ravine running parallel to the road. The vegetation was a bit thicker as we neared the spot we had started from.
“Well that was fun. Though I still wonder where we were.”
“Yeah, and despite almost dying several times.”
“We weren’t in any real danger. Also, my hands are freezing.”
“Really? Mine are hot.”
“Hmm, feel mine.”
Therese held my hand. “Wow, they are cold.” We put our rocks, walking sticks, and mushrooms into the vehicle.
“Well we didn’t find many mushrooms, but that was fun. I will dry the mushrooms, powder them and share it with you,” Therese said.
“Okay.” We pulled back onto the road. I scanned the woods as we drove trying to figure it out but was still confused.