Getting out there, part 5: When NOT to hunt!

One of two small chanterelles we found, hiding shyly under a log.Yesterday a first-timer friend and I headed up to Tiger Mountain to hunt chanterelles (and whatever else might be out there). I was hopeful for a good catch, because we were hunting the exact same trail that my son Nathan and I hunted two weeks ago, when we pulled in a good haul of golden chanterelles, as well as some chicken of the woods and oysters.

The one cloud on my horizon was the fact that it hasn't rained here in Western Washington for more than 20 consecutive days. For the Northwest, at this time of the year, that's not a record (I'm told the record is 50 days), and not even all that unusual for August. But I knew that exceptionally long dry spells might not be very good for mushroom hunting. Exactly HOW not good, I had no idea, until we actually got out there.

Two weeks ago, we began hitting chanterelles about halfway into the 3.5 mile trail that we hiked at Tiger Mountain. Then we collected quite a catch on the second half of the hike.

So today I wasn't surprised to not find any chanterelles the first half of the hike. I kept urging my friend: "Patience!" But, once we got to the stream crossing that marked the halfway point, I was surprised and disappointed to find that the soft, low green mossy loam which the chanterelles typically enjoy was now yellowish-dry and brittle! And not a chanterelle in sight.

Brand-new R. brevipes poking up through the loam. Not yet infected with the H. lactiflourum fungus that turns it into a delicious orange lobster mushroom.The remainder of the hunt proved similar. We only found two hardy little chanties, barely poking up through the dry moss in one shady spot. We did find some sulphur shelf (chicken of the woods), but in very small quantities, and some of it was chalky-dry. The only other thing we found was a single young lobster mushroom, and two other plain white Russula brevipes which had not yet been attacked by the Hypomyces lactiflourum fungus.

Three edible mushrooms ... 7 miles of hiking. Not my finest day of hunting! But I knew (because two weeks ago we were up to our necks in chanties) it wasn't me. It was the weather. Several days before our hunt a few weeks ago, the area had received some decent rainfall.

I think my friend Brian enjoyed the hunt and the beautiful weather, even though the mushrooms were few and far between.Lesson learned — if you're on the downslope of an extended dry spell, don't bother. Unless you are willing to simply enjoy the hike! (Which we did, for sure. And I'm hopeful my new mushroom friend will return with me after the next good dousing rain!)


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