Sirithiri — Mushroom hunting in wonderland

Posted in Blogs, Visual Art

BY SIRI BARDARSON
Oct. 25, 2013

“Synthesis”

I went looking for Chanterelle mushrooms the other day but I didn’t find any. Let me clarify, I am a Northwest girl and I know where I know that the Chanterelles are but I was checking out new, local habitat; to no avail. Coming up empty-handed is a defeat that’s hard on a committed forager: wild blackberries, clams, agates, Chanterelles and pussy willows are the seasonal bingos for this seeker and it was discouraging to not find what I was looking for.

Instead, I found other things.

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Forest delights.

Ain’t that the way, the other things?  What is that magic formula of discovery of something new?  It’s so easy to be kidnapped by disappointment. That is it exactly; my little girl is stolen away by my big ego demand, “Chanterelles or nothing!” When in fact, she is out wandering in the woods looking at anything and everything and not really caring how it turns out.

I wanted Chanterelles sautéed in soft scrambled eggs with toast or in heavy cream sauce on big flat noodle pasta; I want, I want, I want.  So, took my iPad and styli and water to drink and my boots and my swimsuit on underneath my jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt and paper bags and a little knife and dry paintbrush for dusting off the pine needles and I headed up the road to a state park to find my mushrooms.

A friend and I had recently walked in the woods and in my mind’s eye I remembered large expanses of fir forest with no understory, but when I got there it wasn’t how it was. I stopped at two other likely spots on my way up the island, but didn’t enter at the trailhead because of the warning signs for hunting season.  (I do have a neon orange penny I could bring next time, but I hate the gun thing.)

So I drove further up the island to another state park and trekked out on a trail, but not before a little side trip out to the high bank above the beach.  The sun was shining through a thick layer of fog and the water was a washed-out color of blue that bleached into the sunlit grayness.  The hillside was silver and golden, with sunshine and fog at the same time.

Yikes, I thought, I have to draw this.

But on my mind were the Chanterelles, the pasta, the bags of buttery sautéed goodness for my freezer. I turned into the dark forest.

It was a Monday and there was no one else around, and the trail was dry. It had been five days since the torrential downpour that had inspired fairy rings in my backyard. There was a ton of lichen, fungi and mushrooms in the forest, from the absolute tiniest darling ones to a big honking phallic thing that grew erect out of the side of a tree, but there were no Chanterelles.

By now, I was hot and sweaty, and I figured I would go back to the bluff and look at the fog and the silver hillside and forget the Chanterelles and draw something. But, alas, the fog had disappeared. I headed down the steep trail to the beach. Forget the drawing; I would hunt for agates. I had easily found a handful of them the last time I was here. It would feel good to find an agate, maybe even go for a quick swim after the frustrating morning.

This particular beach is on the big water of the west side of Whidbey Island. You can stand and look straight out the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Japan. Big kelp beds hang 50 feet out from the beach like an old-fashioned, brown lace collar, and a directional buoy tolls a warning.  The tide was out and sadly the rollers were big.  (Surfers hang out here.) I decided against the swim. I sat down in the hot sun, and dispiritedly sifted the medium stones for agates. Over my shoulder, a big eagle sat sentinel.

I didn’t find any agates.

I was getting hot. I had on too many clothes for the sunny beach, thinking that I was going to be bush whacking through the woods collecting grocery bags full of Chanterelles.

I’ll go back home and stop at Holmes Harbor for a dip, I thought. So I went to the car, threw my backpack into the backseat, ate a banana and slurped some water.

Driving down the highway, just past the cow hole, I turned to go to Ebey’s Landing. I really had a hankering now for an agate, and the beach at Ebey’s rarely disappointed. I parked and walked down to the beach. There were very few people, and the sun still beat down and gave everything a dried out look. The straight up angle of the sun didn’t help the agate foraging and, after a half an hour when I was still empty-handed, I got in the car.

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Chinese-red orange pumpkin of Coupeville.

I drove back to Prairie Center and took a left up the hill. To the right was a field of squash of some kind. I couldn’t tell exactly what kind of squash, but the vines were long and the big leaves white with end-of-life mold and sun bleached. There was a tractor road that led to an outhouse, and I drove off the road and into the field and got out.  There, underneath the huge leaves I saw the orangest pumpkins I had ever seen; pumpkins that were a deep, Chinese-red orange, sitting on the beautiful dry silt of Ebey Prairie.

I pulled out my iPad and my stylus and sat down in the dirt, too hot in the straight up sun, but now I didn’t care.  I gave up and sketched the pumpkins and time went by and the fog returned in the distance over Admiralty Straits and the peaks of the Olympics floated above the cottony fog in Sumi brush indigo.

I found something; not what I wanted, but what I needed.

Siri Bardarson is a musician devoted to synthesizing her classical and popular music skills on her cello. She sketches to connect in the “now,” and she writes a lot.  She is ecstatically happy! 

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