May 6th – the first foray of the season and it felt like it took forever to get here. If you don’t know what a foray is let me explain before I get into my story. A foray is an event where a group of people get together to wander the woods looking for mushrooms. In the Palouse, the local mycological club hosts two forays a year – spring and fall. They are wonderful events (depending on the hosts) that can help you learn how to identify mushrooms and where they are.
The weather in the Palouse can be quite uncooperative and there was a lot of discussion about what the weather was doing the week prior to the foray. The reason the weather is important is that mushrooms are quite particular about their environment. They like warm but not too warm. They need rainy days followed by sunny days to fully form. The weather here can be perfect but it can also be brutal.
The days leading up to the foray, the weather was okay. We had some rain and some sun but it was cold. We showed up early that morning dressed in our winter coats hoping that we’d get something out of this trip.
The desired mushroom – Morels. Morels are wrinkly little mushrooms that my mother said tastes like chewing on a condom. We didn’t bother to ask her how she knew even though every one of us thought it.
The foray was held in Idaho, in an area we were unfamiliar with. The morning started with a change of location because Idaho had instituted a new mushroom permit program for certain forested areas. We drove out past Deary, Idaho. It’s a small town area that I knew of but hadn’t really had any need to go to. There is lots of forested land out there.
The large group exited their vehicles and proceeded to disappear into the trees. It’s funny that such a large group could suddenly be gone but we didn’t see more than a handful of the other participants as we trekked our way up the side of the mountain.
We searched and searched. Our first mushroom – a false Morel (poisonous) so we continued feeling like we were about to strike mushroom gold at any point. I kept my heart and ears open, praying that nature would lead me to the desired place. We picked up a few mushrooms, hoping to identify a new edible.
Mushroom hunting can be really tough especially for a girl like me. I get so lost in my thoughts so bad that I had to work hard to bring myself back to the search. I found tons of tiny strawberry plants which filled my head with the idea of berries. Oh, I love strawberries. Up and down the obstacle course they call the mountain. We were covered in burrs that I first thought were ticks and then was grateful that they were so sticky my shoelaces couldn’t come untied.
We returned to the group at noon with sad hearts and tired legs. The elderly teacher kindly looked at my box of treasures only to inform me that I had nothing edible. He gladly told me all the scientific names of the mushrooms I had gathered but I would be going home empty handed.
The hardest part of all this, is some did find mushrooms. We crossed paths with an elderly man going up the hill as we came down. He told us he had found twenty morels the last weekend. As he walked away he called that he just found two. He had been kind enough to tell us of a great place to look.
After eating our meager lunches, we followed the old man’s directions. Another hour and a half and we still had no morels but what we found might prove to be worth more – a huge meadow filled with huckleberry bushes. It’s far too early for berries but we left with dreams of pies and jellies.
I couldn’t help but think about what it all meant. Why would we be left without mushrooms when others were boasting about their treasures? I think the truth is life is not fair but, more importantly, we get it. My mom said it was her fault because she really hates morels. I had no opinion but I loved spending time wandering amongst the trees. I saw chipmunks and followed bumblebees. I wished my son and my husband had joined me but I got periods of quiet and snagged leaves to identify plants later. I’m learning more plants and that makes me happy. We found roses and tiny white flowers that smelled like spring.
We may not have had mushrooms but we had a new place where mushrooms grow and more importantly, we had found huckleberries which have eluded us for the past two years. We hiked for nearly four hours and our bodies ached but it felt good. I brought home conchs to paint, a light blue snail and a piece of bleached wood. Who’s to say that there was no treasure to be found that day. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.