Hunting mushrooms began when I was a camp counselor in Western Michigan, at the end of the camp season there was a copy of the Audubon Field Guide in the lost and found, and since I was staying on through the fall I began to use it to identify the foolproof four plus two. For a long time I simply hunted Oysters, Chicken Mushroom, Hen of the Woods and Giant Puffballs. Eventually I grew tired of leaving so many mushrooms in the field, and made a concerted effort to learn ALL of the characteristics of a mushroom, one at a time, though several a season.
The same came to both medicinal herbs, and edible greens. While my specialty is mushrooms, I’d been foraging in the same woods for so long eventually I began to ID the plants while I was hunting mushrooms and love to create three course meals, with desserts, out of all foraged foods. A Morel hunt never that turns up empty, you’ll always have a bag of Ramps or Wood Nettle to take home.
Two years ago I began making liqueurs out of wild fruits and nuts. Noccino, Elderflower Liqueur, Elderberry Liqueur, Wild Blackberry Liqueur and several others, as well as wines from wild blackberries and serviceberries.
I manage to write a few political essays a year, I work as a legal worker with the National Lawyers Guild, and keep busy doing a little building maintenance and painting house. All in all the best day one can have is a day in the woods.
As often as possible I bring my kids into the woods with me on foraging runs. My daughter who is now 17 began hiking with me when she was two years old. Last year she managed to find, on a pretty poor foraging run, a 10 pound all black maitake.
I think that it’s important to find one woods, just one, then maybe the next year find another. Beginning in spring get out there every single week until fall. Walk the same trails, see the same trees, in all aspects of their life cycle. There is one set of woods I’ve been going to for twenty years, one tree in particular I got to know. It was a fifty or eighty year old Oak and I would harvest G. frondosa (Maitake) in the fall. A few years later it died out after one particularly long summer drought. The next season it was covered with Armillaria sp. (honey mushrooms), another edible mushroom, but one that attacks Oak Trees. I harvested honeys off of that tree for a few years, then came Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster Mushroom), and some of the largest I’ve ever harvested, while still harvesting Honey Mushrooms. Eventually the trunk fell, and all that it would produce was Lycoperdon pyriforme (Pear Shaped Puffballs) but I put them in a pot and ate them gladly.
Last year I looked for that tree, I did find what was left of the stump, but the trunk had been entirely consumed and I couldn’t even tell where it had been. It was more moving than one would expect, to know a place, a single tree, so intimately for so long and then to see it gone. What we do in life should be long term, and ensure that not only we relate to the land, but that it’s there for our children to relate to it.