The subtitle of this website is “Rational Creativity in the Natural World.” One might imply from these words that nothing here should be construed as a supernatural explanation for nature. This would be correct. I’m not opposed to supernatural explanations, or to the idea that there are forms of energy in the universe that haven’t been explained. I’m just not the person to engage in those discussions. Most of my writing is devoted to the creative expression of our experiences in the material universe, even when those experiences might brim over into spirituality. Given all of that, last weekend I had a fascinating experience while mushroom picking. Think of this entry as dutiful reporting of the data.
Kim and I stopped in a mature second growth forest on the way home from central Oregon for some reconnaissance on the fall chanterelles. Significant rain had fallen about 10 days before, the only moisture here at the shriveled end of summer. As chanterelle habitat goes, this place was nearly ideal. Beneath the closed canopy of 50-year-old Douglas fir was a mat of thick green moss and clumps of sword fern, all spread gently across a nearly level canyon bottom. The air was warm and light and dry as an owl feather, the moisture from a week and a half ago mostly a memory.
Because the fall was young and the summer had been dry, fruiting fungi were not a given. So I wandered into the dimness carrying no expectations. At times I followed traces of old skid roads left from the logging decades ago, a random ambling approach to mushrooming that works as well as any other strategy in a new place. Because my hopes weren’t high, the first group of chanterelles was a pleasant surprise, half a dozen of them just up from the moss on the old track I happened to be following. They were dry, firm, and clean, the color of those Creamsickle ice cream bars I used to love as a kid. I cut them with a small folding knife attached to my belt loop by a lengthy red lanyard, held them briefly to my chest, then placed them in a cotton bag. In an instant I had enough for a small breakfast of chanterelles and eggs, an early autumn taste sensation.
I wandered. Time passed. There were no mushrooms. The knife was open in my hand. I decided that having the blade out was somehow presumptuous, that I was hanging onto the open knife so as not to waste valuable time if some chanterelles finally appeared. I was ready. Waiting. Tense. Keeping my mushroom knife out and available assumed that time was limited, mushrooms were limited, life was limited. So I folded up the small blade, placed it in my pocket, and began to focus on the forest and all that it offered beyond a bag of chanterelles. Immediately I found more mushrooms. I repeated this exercise several times, folding the knife, placing it in my pocket, and withdrawing my hand to wave it in an arc of appreciation for the forest and the afternoon. Yup, more chanterelles. If I left my hand in my pocket wrapped around my knife, the mushrooms made themselves scarce.
Remembering a mushrooming trip and a similar lesson late last fall, I decided to acknowledge this forest of plenty by leaving a mushroom at every place that I picked. There really weren’t many mushrooms up. But there were enough. When I cut mushrooms, left one, and dutifully placed the knife in my pocket, I immediately found more chanterelles. I pushed this experiment further. If I found only single mushroom, I left it. When I turned to leave the spot, several mushrooms seemed to emerge on queue, available for picking.
This was spooky. I’m a data guy. An empiricist. These were not isolated incidents. They happened repeatedly on this short afternoon foray. At some point I began to wonder how the statistics would parse out, but on a beautiful day in a beautiful place with the first chanterelles up and ready for eating and the brimming promise of fungi throughout the fall, statistics seemed like a lot of trouble.
Finally, I consciously acknowledged how much food the forest had provided. I had enough chanterelles. Of course I continued to find mushrooms, and at first I picked these late-arriving gifts (but leaving one in each place!). Soon I stopped harvesting completely, slipping quietly past the remaining chanterelles, through the sword fern, across the moss carpet, back to the truck. Kim was asleep in the cab. She needed a nap worse than she needed to find chanterelles.
Feel free to draw your own conclusions from this experience. My take? There is a process of attentiveness. A part of that process is pausing and breathing and being in that moment in that place in that heightened level of awareness for what is actually there. I wasn’t growing chanterelles through consciousness. I was participating fully in a forest with chanterelles in it, becoming better able to see things around and within those things that, in the frenetic foraging mode to which I am more accustomed, would have been invisible to me. I can’t know whether I would have found more mushrooms hurrying willy-nilly through that quiet forest, rather than walking slowly with attention and gratitude. But quantity really isn’t the point, is it? The attentive process is about beauty and tranquility and having enough for chanterelles and toast in the morning.
By the way, they were delicious!