I know it’s there. It’s lingering, just beneath the snow: dormant life. I am waiting for the warmth of spring to wake up this sleepy, resting life so I may start my foraging.
As I walk down the forest trail I see my foraging spots. Those Red Alder trees will have Oyster Mushrooms. The edge of the creek will be abundant in Fiddleheads. Low Bush Cranberry, Thimble Berries, Goose Berries, Saskatoon Berries, Wild Raspberries, Wild Mint, Solomon Seal, Devil Clubs, Burdock, Honey Mushrooms, Combs Tooth Mushroom, Pear Shaped Puffballs are just a fraction of what this forest holds. Most of it is for eating, a few others are for medicinal purposes.
I take a new path. It’s exciting. I have an idea what may grow along this trail. I look at the trees, what kind they are, how spaced apart they are, what kind of underbrush is growing and I make a best guess of what will be here in the spring, summer and fall. I make mental notes of these new areas.
In my meandering, I notice that my surroundings get much darker. Large Firs and spindly Spruce are predominant and block most of the incoming light. There is very little undergrowth. Lobsters will be here. Lobster Mushrooms that is. The “lobster mushroom” is actually a fungus that has parasitized a Russula or Lactarius mushroom. You cannot mistake it: the fungus creates a bright orange or Red-orange covering over the host mushroom; the surface is firm and looks like fine sandpaper. The fungus transforms the host mushroom, twisting it into odd shapes.
I cannot wait to return to this spot and see the bright red shapes bursting through the forest floor, pushing Fir and Spruce needles away. Well, I hope they will be here; it’s the right kind of habitat, as long as the Russula Mushroom is here too. Then I will turn it into a meaty meal for me. Grow Russula’s, grow!
Birch grows in this forest. When a Birch tree is old enough, between 40-50 years of age, it is more susceptible to the Inonotus obliquus Fungus: Chaga. Chaga is a mushroom with an interesting texture and form. The “canker” that protrudes out from the tree is hard like wood, irregularly formed, and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. When I was eight years old, I saw these “burnt extrusions” around my grandmother’s property (her property happened to be part of the same regional forest) and I thought they were lightening strikes! Oh silly me. Now I know Chaga is a highly medicinal mushroom and the best time to harvest it is in the winter. The Chaga grows very slowly and will kill the tree in years to come. There is Chaga here, but the extrusions are small. I will harvest it in the future.
I’m in my fourth year of foraging. Wherever I go, there is a potential forage opportunity, even in the city! I don’t over pick from one spot; it’s important to leave some behind so that propagation can ensue and life continues.
I stand at a ‘Y” in the trail. I can choose to go right, left, or turn around. The trail to the left beckons me, “Look! Look down here! I have future goodies for you!” I step left, but my brain registers the numbness of my hands and face caused by the icy gusting wind. I concede to the fact I am cold and head for home.
I’ll come back another day and look for more promises that lay under the snow.