Althea ricochets through the forest, bouncing from smell to smell, looking over her shoulder frequently to make sure I’m still back there. I should be paying closer attention to the 3-month-old pup, but I’m blinded by gold fever, scanning the leaf litter for a glimmer of chanterelles. I’m not disappointed. I already have a paper bag bursting with them, and I can’t stop. Over the past week we’ve covered every acre of the property, the 16 we already own and the 21 we’re in the process of buying. It’s oak/hickory/beech/maple predominantly, with the 16 acres featuring several gorgeous stands of oaks that are in the 70-100 year range. The new parcel has been logged several times over the past decades, so the older trees tend to be beech or gnarled chestnut oaks that weren’t worthy of the chainsaw. But there are some gems in there, including sassafras, cherry, hickory.
Today we’re exploring the southern boundary, a vertical rise out of a hollow formed by an intermittent creek and almost within sight of the neighbor’s place. I stumble over Althea as she darts in front of me, hot on some new scent, and that’s when I spot my other obsession — a cluster of black trumpets nestled between a pair of young white oaks. I harvest them, almost certain of their identity but planning to confirm it with iNaturalist, and scurry to catch up with the dog, who fortunately is largely oblivious to the mushrooms and focuses more on delectable deer turds and decomposing chunks of wood and who knows what else, occasionally stopping to burrow like a determined terrier into a hole that likely leads to a huddle of quaking chipmunks before her A.D.D. kicks in and she’s off in pursuit of a moth that had the misfortunate of fluttering into her field of vision.
This has been an epic mushroom summer. I’ve been fascinated by shrooms for only a few years, and this is by far the best foraging I’ve encountered. We had a week or two of drenching rain followed by temperate, sunny days. The forest exploded with fungus as the mycelium ran rampant. In addition to a bounty of chanterelles, which I’ve had with at least one meal every day for the past week, there are bolete’s everywhere. I don’t know a lot about them but I can’t help but stop constantly to pull one up and take a close look at its strange spore dispersal system, a series of pores instead of gills that give the underside of the fruiting body the look of a sponge. They’re red, ochre, earth brown, some are slimy, some look like deer antler velvet, but they all look like boletes, stout, fungal fireplugs rooted in the forest floor. I’m struggling to ID specific species so I’ve steered clear of them from a foraging perspective, but I still marvel at them every time I find one. Apparently, the deer and chipmunks and squirrels are equally impressed, leaving some savaged and shredded, others rimmed with nibbles and polite bites.
The boletes aren’t alone. Amanita are scattered across the forest floor, too, Another group I steer clear of, some delicious, some psychedelic, some deadly poisonous, with names like the death cap and the destroying angel, capable of liquifying your insides and turning you into compost. I find a fly agaric, which according to my guide is an entheogenic amanita that can produce psychedelic experiences if prepared properly. There are two of them nestled in the leaf litter like little red corvettes in a sea of chevy novas. I take photos but don’t harvest them. Even though the entheogen fascinate me, I’m very conservative in my foraging, taking only mushrooms I can absolutely, positively ID like morels, chanterelles, puff balls, and the black trumpets I just gently laid atop the mob of chanterelle in my paper bag.