Getting Lost among the Mushrooms

Boletus edulis (Porcino, Steinpilze, etc.)

There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.

  1. You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
  2. You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
  3. Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
  4. Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
  5. You have full cloth bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”

That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge. Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep drop-off that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we? Nice job, pixies!

I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.

“Are we lost?” asked M.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”1)Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.

A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.

I turned on the GPS, clicked the  Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?

This old hollow fir trunk looked like the mask of a forest god.

But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.

We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.

I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

The Element of Fire Is Invoked in the South . . . and West, North, and East

Smoke rises from the Chateau Fire in Teller County, Colorado.

M. and I were driving home from Pueblo on Monday, anxiously watching the horizon.

“This reminds me of those cartoons about cavemen where there are always some volcanoes erupting in the distance,” she said, indicating the mountains with a flick of her hand.

We had just passed through an area that burned on Friday-Sunday. To the north, two other forest fires were galloping through parts of Teller and Park counties.

To the south was the biggie, the Spring Fire, which currently has passed 79,000 acres in size (or 32,000 hectares).

And now a new smoke pillar was rising in the west.

An hour later, groceries unloaded, I had changed into wildland fire gear and was down at the station. This new fire was high on a mountain on national forest land, close enough to watch but nearly an hour away by truck. So we were just on standby in case in came off the mountain and towards town.

The chief and another firefighter went off in a brush truck to notify people in some subdivisions, in case they had missed the reverse-911 call. The rest of us snacked, drank water and sports drinks in the nearly 100° F. heat, and watched the air tankers pass overhead.

My mind was all over the place. Some Old Testament lines kept popping up: “This is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a pleasing aroma, a special gift presented to the LORD” (Exodus 29:18, if you care about these things).

Yeah, but which LORD? Sky gods are supposed to like sweet-smelling offerings.

Then I mentally wandered off into thinking of some kind of mad “sorcerer’s apprentice”  ritual in which the element of fire had been invoked in all four quarters and could no longer be dismissed. That was not very comforting either.

If only, as in this Danny Shanahan cartoon for The New Yorker, they could just be a backdrop.