A First Time Forager

Chanterelle Hunting in Mount Baker, WA

Zigzag Black

With fall in the air and whispers of snow in the northwest, our thoughts turn to the woods and the moments of respite they offer against the busyness that, too, comes with this crisp season. It’s a season of magic, of taking time out to reimagine our lives through a more thankful lens, and one, too, of surprises and gifts.

One golden gift the woods offer in a botanical game of hide and seek is the chanterelle, a meaty, trumpeting mushroom that disguises itself amongst the trees and ferns, blossoming in the deep, moist darkness of the forest floor.

Through a long series of stretches through the Northern Cascades, I was a passenger on a chanterelle hunting expedition along with two pups with a nose for the finer fungi. Just after a light misting of cool rain, my guide drove me out with a pocket knife and a few empty cloth bags  to one of his many secret spots. With a few misfires between analog mapping and mis-remembrances that I suspect were more to throw me off the trail and prevent my solo return, we landed on a dirt road, parked for almost no apparent reason at a precise spot, and waded through the green carpet below and a maze of towering trees.

I inched behind my guide, making note of his instruction as his eyes panned the floor excitedly. We came across several species: giant inedible Lobsters with brilliant reds, delicate Candy Caps, bits of a Sulphur Shelf, and pads of Witches’ Butter floating on trees. There was no guarantee we would find what we were looking for, or that if they had been there that they had not already been snatched up. There was no precise way to determine where they could be found, or how far we might have to walk. I was excited and anxious, fumbling with my camera to cover as much ground as I could, wondering if I would even know when I had found our treasure.

Sure enough, my guide knew his spot well, and discovered a small patch of chanterelles in a few minutes of quick pursuit. I quickly ran to his side, peering down as he cut its fleshy stalk at the base, and gingerly brushes bits of earth from it’s ribbed underbelly. It was glorious, this natural thing; a moment of eureka! Rejoicing in gratitude that the earth had opened herself up and left us this gold to discover. Before my sheer wonder had even begun to subside, we were off again, one lone trinket in our bag and energized to add another.

Throughout the day, we found dozens of chanterelles, almost four pounds in total. Red-cheeked from the cold and stiff from bending and climbing through their preferred terrain we ended the day as evening began to blind us.

Reflecting on the expedition as I am now , I can’t recall a more childlike day in my adult life. Foraging in any season, whether it’s picking daffodils in the spring, or juicy ripe berries in the summer, or these enchanting golden trumpets in autumn, exercises our forgotten imaginations, and rekindles excitement, hope, and joy. But moreover it reminds me of all the incredible wonders that are available to us if we are patient and diligent enough to persist in the hunt.