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.”

Trees, Animism, and Yuletide

Christmas tree discarded on public land in southern Colorado. (Photo: Royal Gorge Field Office, Bureau of Land Management)

Christmas tree discarded on public land in southern Colorado. (Photo: Royal Gorge Field Office, Bureau of Land Management)

I wanted to use the photo of the dumped Christmas tree with two different posts. Then I decided to combine them, so keep reading.

1. “Trees” is the theme of this month’s Animist Blog Carnival, hosted by Australian blogger Jay at naturebum. Tree totems, forest fires, Indo-European cosmology, and more!

2. Is there anything grosser than building up to the orgy of gift-unwrapping on December 25 and then declaring the whole holiday season over?A couple of days after that, and the local newspapers are telling you where you can “recycle” your Christmas tree.

But a book review in the British weekly The Spectator notes that at one time, decorations were left up until Candlemas.

‘The season of Christmastide has, in other words,’ [author Nick Grooms] observes, ‘shifted forward, as if it now expresses an impatient and premature desire for gratification. The result is that there are two cold months of winter following Christmas.’

At the very least, tonight is not quite Twelfth Night, unless like one Wiccan friend of mine, you count your twelve days from the winter solstice. So the colored lights will stay on a bit longer.