In my former life, Fridays were spent painfully watching the hours tick by until I was free for the weekend. These days, my work feels more like an adventure than a chore. Last Friday epitomized our current lifestyle: healthy, hard work. The weather was predicted to shift substantially over the weekend, and we knew that this may be our last day to hunt for mushrooms. We rode our bikes up the mountain until we reached a spot along the trail that felt secluded. Mushroom hunting is a popular activity in this part of the country and we had to search for an area that had not already been picked over.
Our strategy was to avoid paths and climb high. Today, we were specifically hunting for Lobster, Chanterelle and Puffball mushrooms. We typically find them near fir trees on the South facing side of the mountain. We had not been mushroom hunting for the past two weeks and it was a very different experience this time. The colorful leaves that made the forest feel like a living kaleidoscope were now scattered on the forest floor, which meant that finding mushrooms became a great deal more difficult. We armed ourselves with sticks and began lifting leaves, hoping for a glimpse of a bright yellow chanterelle or deep red lobster.
Mushroom hunting feels like treasure hunting. You wander through the woods, actively scanning the ground, excited by the prospect of finding a hidden gem, but twenty minutes can pass by in the blink of an eye without placing a single mushroom in your bag. But, then, just when you start to loose all hope, you spot a yellow beacon of glory out of the corner of your eye and as you lift up the leaves, you discover a chanterelle. At this time of year, not every edible mushrooms is still good, so you are not certain that you have found treasure until you slice a bit of the stem off to check it’s quality. If the stem is white throughout, then into the bag it goes, you have found yourself hidden treasure.
After the hunt was over, we hopped on our bikes and roared down the mountain. The trail is filled with potholes, rocks and streams, so it takes a bit of courage to speed down the hill. The adrenaline that pumped through my body made up for every bit of the fear. We all made it home safely, with only a few extra bumps and bruises. After a hearty lunch, we harvested the remaining vegetables in the garden. The growing season was officially over and winter was fast approaching. Weather reports predicted that the mountain was expected to get 30 inches of snow over the weekend. The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning our morning booty, I mean bounty. Mushrooms are very delicate and for all the work they take to gather, I didn’t want to waste a single one.
The owners of Zig Zag Mountain Farm, Jim and Britta, were arriving Friday afternoon and Alex bravely volunteered to be our chef for the evening. Alex happens to be a few years younger than Chase and I, which seems to be the general age range for woofers and we are starting to feel old. He lives in the homestead with us and we basically spend all day, every day hanging out together. But, somehow we didn’t know until Open Mic night that he was an incredible musician. Unable to bring his banjo on the airplane from Kennebunk, Maine, he was able to score a guitar from the host of Open Mic night and blew us all away with his talent. He played a few covers to warm us all up and then busted out a handful of original Alex Deely tunes. Sitting amongst the crowd, I overheard people whispering, “what a poet” “we should have him play full time” and “where did this guy come from.” I felt like I was friends with a celebrity. At dinner on Friday evening he showed us another skill, he prepared mushroom gravy and poured it atop homemade, flaky, buttery biscuits. We left the table feeling not only full but also complete, as if we had participated in the lifecycle of nature by gathering and consuming the food that Mother Nature had spent the summer growing.