Archive for the ‘mushrooms’ Category

A Hunting We Will Go

My sweet husband convinced me that we needed to go hunting yesterday. No animals were ever in danger.

We were hunting the elusive morel mushroom. This is a tricky little number to hunt: too cold and it hasn’t come out yet. Too warm, and it came up a week ago and is all dried up, bug-infested and picked over by other mushroom hunters. There’s a “just right” condition, but that’s nearly as elusive as the mushroom itself.

It has been wet and cool, with a sudden warm-up, so we thought conditions might be perfect.

I haven’t been in the woods since 2010. That’s a very sorry state of affairs, but last year was a somewhat sorry year. My dad died in early May and I spent most of the month in Nevada, trying to help my brother sort everything out.

Don was of a mind to stay on back-roads all the way to our “secret” picking spot (I’d tell you where, but then I would have to kill you. And if I didn’t kill you, the other mushroom pickers who know our secret place would have to. It’s really not so secret). It’s over on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, a little over an hour’s drive. The point was, Don wanted to stay on back roads, but it’s only been a week since snow levels were down to “pass level” or 4,000′ elevation. He checked the USFS website and the website said the roads he wanted were open, but he really wanted to talk to someone and ask if they were actually passable.

There’s no one in the office on Saturdays to talk to.

Which brings us to the permit: you are supposed to pick up a free permit to pick mushrooms. In years past, the permit has been hanging in the little Forest Service kiosk in Zig Zag, by the Ranger Station. But not this year. No, this year the leaflet explaining all these rules said that the free permit could be obtained by dropping by the USFS Office during their regular business hours (or during your regular work hours in Portland, meaning you would have to take the time off to drive to the Ranger Station during work hours, forgoing your wages for the time out of your work week it takes, to obtain a free permit to do something you didn’t think about doing until Saturday morning when the weather was nice and you decided to drive up the mountain only to discover you can’t get a permit except during regular business hours).

We bagged the permit idea.

Yes, I just admitted that we went into the woods with the intent of picking morel mushrooms without our “free” permit because it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go ‘shrooming and their office was closed so we couldn’t get a damn permit in the first place.

<rolls eyes>

But we were never in danger.


The morels we found were old, buggy, and inedible. We missed the small window of morel mushroom opportunity. So did a lot of other people as we saw several other cars and pickers out in the woods.

It was really nice to be out in the woods.

The wind soughed through the tops of the pines and the widow-makers creaked against the trees that held them up. We climbed over dead-fall and negotiated the maze of wind-blown tree skeletons. There were lots of wild flowers out, most of which I have identified.

I used Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest by Mark Turner & Phyllis Gustafson. Some flowers refuse to be identified except by some means of a huge tome of botanical keys. I am pretty certain we have that tome in our library but it requires a more extensive knowledge of Latin and scientific terms like petioles, pinnately, and stipules. In short, it’s way too much bother for me when I can just photograph the flowers and enjoy them forever, nameless but beautiful.

We also saw a few other mushrooms out, like psilocybin and some “coral” mushrooms and Artist’s conks. I didn’t bother to look any of the other mushrooms up, preferring to leave most of the fungi anonymous. Psilocybin is easily identified and we left those alone. I can hallucinate all by myself, thank-you-very-much.

We ate lunch at Bear Springs picnic area.

On our way back home, Don decided to check out those back roads that were supposedly open. He figured that we had made it to our destination, we were on the return trip back, and we were starting from the upper elevations going down, so the worst would be at the top.

Yep. Roads are “open” but not passable. We turned around between ice and snow floes and returned to the main roads, thankful that we hadn’t tried to come up that way.

I’ve inserted the best of my photos. If you hover your mouse over a photo, the name of the wildflower will come up (if I know what it is). Sometimes I even figured out the Latin name. You should be proud of me!

Also, clicking on any image will bring it up full size.


Oh, the elk scat was just for kicks.

And we didn’t need that mushroom picking permit because we never picked any mushrooms.

No wildflowers were harmed.



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Friday of last week we stopped for a stroll in the woods to search for the elusive wild morel. The wild, yummy morel.

There are so many species of morels! It is not difficult to know a morel from any other mushroom in the wild: the only other mushroom that begins to resemble a morel is the false morel.

I have heard many theories about where morels grow best. They come up the spring after a fire, they come up around last year’s burn piles in the forest (where logging crews have burned brush), they come up around pine trees and they like the north slopes. Folks who pick them carefully guard their picking sites with secrecy (but I can tell you that we saw several other cars out in the woods where we were looking so no place is truly secret if a morel hunter is out in the woods).

We did gather about a half gallon of very fresh ‘shrooms, a sign that we were spot on for the timing of our hunt and maybe a week early.

While I walked around with my eyes on the ground, I decided to snap some other photos as well (of course).

A row of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slippers) in bloom.

The delicate anenome oregana (Blue Windflower) could be seen blooming throughout the woods.

There were still a few fresh trilliums in bloom.

An exploded puff ball mushroom (I love to stomp on these and watch the black cloud of spores explode into the air). (They are not edible!)

Last year’s maple leaf becomes a work of art.

Carpenter ants were on the move.

And there was this “whatzit?”

I’ve seen some bright orange fungi and jelly-like fungi, but nothing quite like this before.

So – you tell me. What is it?? And to keep this interesting, I’m going to offer a prize to whoever figures it out. I’ll send you a copy of The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (for whichever region you live in).

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Over the Hills

I am brain-tired tonight and can’t figure out how to insert a slide show of pictures, so you’ll have to click on this link: Webshots to view my photos.

We drove over the mountains to La Grande on Friday, stopping at Rowena Dell to hike and look at wildflowers. Sunday, on the way home, we stopped to look for morels. Mostly, we took photos.

About Rowena: When we first discovered this beautiful plateau, it was owned by the State of Oregon and was not part of the Tom McCall Preserve. Very few people parked at the overlook and fewer still hiked out on the trail up the ridge. We took our kids and dog out across the meadow, flew kites and picnicked (always careful: between poison oak, ticks and the possibility of rattlesnakes, one learns to tread softly).

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It’s a wind-blown site overlooking the Columbia River just east of The Dalles.

That was a very long time ago. The Nature Conservancy now owns this beautiful piece of land and hiking is restricted to the trails and no dogs are allowed. A lot of people park their cars at the overlook and wander up the trail: on Friday last, there was a steady stream of cars and hikers. It was hard to get any sweeping photos of the area without including a random hiker in the photo.

I can’t remember the last time Don & I stopped here. It was probably during our guide days, when we took people from our church on outdoor trips: I do remember taking a tour up in the old blue-and-white church bus and picnicking at the State Park on the Columbia River far below. Just stopping and enjoying the place on our own – that I can’t remember doing since the days when we could still fly kites out on the bluff.

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It is still as beautiful as ever, maybe more so since you can no longer walk out on the fragile flowers. The profusion of spring flowers is incredible.

We didn’t limit our weekend trip to Rowena. On our way home from La Grande, we pulled off on a Forest Service road atop Meacham Summit, hoping to find early morel mushrooms. The snow was still clinging to the ground in the shady spots  (a lot of cars were pulled off on the side of the road while mushroom pickers peeked and poked in hope).

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The glacier lilies and grass widows were blooming in profusion. But there were no morels. So we headed on west.

Out of Hermiston, we dropped down along the edge of the Columbia River. We kept seeing flowers along the median: purple, red, yellow. The red flowers were striking, but we were never in a good place to pull over and look to see what it was. But the other flowers… We pulled off on an access road so we could photograph the longleaf phlox and other flowers in bloom along the railroad right-of-way.

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Back on the road, we stayed true to I-84 until Hood River, when we turned south. We circled Mt Hood, heading toward our mushroom-hunting grounds (sorry, I can’t disclose our site, but it is located in the Mt. Hood National Forest).

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We didn’t hit a bonanza of morels, but we did find enough of the elusive little pine-cone shaped fungi to make dinner with.

Dipped the morels in eggs, rolled them in bread crumbs (or crushed Ritz crackers) and sautéed them in butter: yummy!!

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The rain has returned after a nice warm week: hopefully this is the right combination for morel hunting. We have some “secret” places where we go (they aren’t all that secret and are all on public lands), but the past few years we have managed to get out into the woods too late. Or else the morel hunting simply was not all that great. Who knows? Morels are capricious.

I am hoping for a good harvest, but am also a tad bit reluctant this year: I managed to have a tooth become inflammed. Yep, that good old abcess thing is going on that means, ultimately, root canal. I called the dentist and am on vicodin and antibiotics until Tuesday morning when he can drill into the bothersome tooth – the root of which goes into my sinus cavity. I’m not in a pleasant mood at the moment. A bit uncomfortable, even.

Still – it isn’t just the hunt for the elusive morel that draws me: I want to be in the woods, away from the noise of traffic and the smell of diesel fuel. We sometimes have to deal with the noise of ATVs when we are hunting morels, but most ATV’ers are polite (just noisy).

I started this blog last night, but the abcessed tooth got to me and I retired early. Awoke this morning with a fat face: darn. Now it is swollen. Not too painful unless I smile. Rather uncomfortable, too. Still, Don and I threw some things into the Explorer and headed east of Mt Hood to see if we had the right combination of warm weather and light rain to produce a decent harvest of the elusive morel.

Finding morels is like a game. Between the fir cones, the mosses, broken limbs, and anything else that might vaguely resemble a morel – you sometimes find morels. Once someone has spotted the first one, it gets easier. We call it “getting your mushroom eyes.” I found the first one today, not far from where we parked. We’ve hunted this place before with varying luck and today started out decent. The morels were fresh and dark and larger. But as the morning wore on, we found fewer and fewer and the ones we did find were old. We gathered about a gallon and a half. Not bad for a walk through the woods.

There were other fungi: false morels and coral mushrooms, little orange fungi ‘cups’ and a conk here or there. There were also a variety of wildflowers in bloom, especially the delicate Lady’s Slipper orchid and a few fading trilliums. I saw a powder blue butterfly no more than an inch in wingspan and a few early dragonflies. The weather was not too bad, either: warm in the sun but cool under the cloud cover and the only rain we saw was on the drive over the mountain. It would have been a fine day if my face wasn’t swollen and I hadn’t twisted my knee somehow.

So now I am sitting here with a sore knee and a still-swollen face. I’ve taken a day’s worth of amoxycillin (double dosage) and started on the second day’s dosage (single dosage) and my face is still miserable, fat, and funny feeling. I’m too young to feel this old.

I cleaned the morels by soaking them in salt water, slicing them in half (to check for bugs and worms) and then draining them. I only threw away five or six. Most of them will be dried for future use in stews and the like. A small portion were sauteéd and mixed into scrambled eggs for dinner tonight (yum)!

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