Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lessons I Learned From the Great Mushroom Hunt of 2012


These past few years I have building experience in an annual fall foray into the forests of the Northwest, seeking wild mushrooms. There are several edible varieties that spring up about this time of year, most notably the Golden Chanterelle, and my son Nathan and I have discovered a "secret" spot where these occur in great abundance. It's primal rainforest, on the slopes of and just about 10 miles or so away from the peak of our state's most majestic volcano, the towering Mt. Rainier.

My portion of this year's take ... golden chanterelles upper
left, oyster mushrooms lower right.
In addition to chanterelles (both golden and white), we also seek the elusive Chicken of the Woods (sulphur shelf), as well as the pretty white oyster mushrooms which grow on decaying wood. Plus, the occasional lobster mushroom, which is actually a parasitic version of several other varieties. Last year's hunt was a fantastic success, with all four varieties being collected, and many dozens of others observed and photographed.

Each year as I am distributing the abundance of wild mushrooms hither and yon, a lot of my friends and colleagues tell me, "Can you teach me how to do this? Where to find these wonderful shrooms?" So this year I decided to open up the hunt and take whoever wanted to come with me. I posted a notice on Facebook about when the hunt would occur, where we would gather to depart, and what safety items to bring.

Saturday evening I gathered in our church parking lot with eight other hardy souls and we headed south to the secret spot. We were a bit late in the season (we really should have done this back in October), but because the summer was quite dry and the rains really didn't start in earnest until a few weeks ago, I figured the growing cycle would be slightly delayed.

First order of business in mushroom hunting is always safety-related, so before we departed we talked about what to pick and what not to pick, as well as how to prepare what you picked; and of equal importance, what safety equipment to carry with you while hunting, just in case you were to get lost in what is very thick and rugged and primal forest. (This I know from experience ... last year I was lost for about three hours. One of my worst fears is being lost and overtaken by nightfall in the cold, very dark, and very damp rainforest.)

One of the golden chantrelles, nearly the size of my fist.
The hunt went well. The hunters broke up pretty much in twos and threes and while the mushrooms weren't as profuse as last year, there were still quite a few out there, and we were re-energized with each new discovery. As the light was beginning to fail and we were returning to the car, two of the hunters told me they were going to take one last foray down into a little valley where others had found the most mushrooms. I should have warned them that this was the valley I myself got lost in last year. The terrain is quite steep and rugged. Instead, I simply told them to be careful and quick.

After a bit of last-minute hunting trailside, and a mile hike back to the car, we gathered. All but our two friends, who were nowhere to be seen.

Another hunter and I decided to head back to place we had last seen them, a camping spot alongside the trail which sat atop the rim of the valley of the chanterelles. She had a flashlight. I should have grabbed another light, but we headed out in a hurry and without thinking about it I had left my pack in the car, just grabbing my red bicycle flasher and my pistol before hurrying off. We hiked the mile back without finding them on the trail. At this point it was dark. I advised my companion to head back to the car with the flashlight, and with my red flasher and pistol in hand I headed further west on the trail (the wrong way from the car), to a certain fork in the road, in case they had turned the wrong direction. We agreed on a plan: If she arrived at the car and they were there, she was to fire off one round to let me know. If I arrived back at the spot we last saw them, I would begin firing rounds to draw their attention. But if I fired three rounds in quick succession, that meant there was a true emergency and she was to organize a rescue party.

(By the way, we had also brought walkie-talkies, but it was so damp they had stopped working early on.)

Barely able to make my way down the trail by the red flashing emergency light, I traveled some distance without any sign of the two women. I achieved the fork in the road and shouted at the top of my lungs, but only silence greeted me. It was now completely dark.

I practically felt my way back to their point of departure from the trail, and made my way slowly up to a very large fir tree on the lip of chanterelle valley, then climbed as high as I dared. I then held my flashing light toward the valley. I was about to fire off a round when I barely heard the sound of a shrill whistle blowing in the distance. It came from somewhere down the valley and to the north. I knew it must be our lost hunters. In response, I fired one round into the air.

I didn't anticipate how deafening the 9 mm shot would be in that close forest. (Ear protection is normally worn when shooting!) But the ringing in my ears subsided after a few minutes, and listening carefully I was able to hear another whistle blowing in the darkness. This one sounded slightly closer. I fired off another round in response.

So it went for the next hour. The blackness was now pitch and I couldn't even see my way back across the campsite to the trail. I continued to hold my flashing red bicycle light aloft, and firing off the occasional round whenever I heard a whistle blow. Gratefully the sounds drew ever closer up the valley. Eventually I could also hear shouts, in response to the shouts I had been making over the past hour. So I continued shouting as loud as I could, though my voice was now growing hoarse.

At first I thought it was my imagination, but finally I saw it ... the ghost of a flickering white light playing delicately off some trees, far below. It had to be our lost hunters! I was grateful and relieved to see that their flashlight was still working.

About this time I began to hear a series of horn honks, three at a time, in a different direction off to my east and slightly south. This was not part of the plan and I wasn't sure what it meant. It was also coming from a different direction and I was afraid it might distract and confuse the lost hunters.

But fortunately about this time, the light of flashlights appeared on the trail behind me. Two of our party, each with a good flashlight, had walked the mile back from the cars to the camping spot to join me. I pointed out to them the light I could see below, drawing ever closer, and they then proceeded to make their way downslope cautiously to meet the lost hunters. Eventually I could hear the sounds of their joyful reunion, now a mere 50 yards or so below my tree.

Our lost hunters were cold and exhausted, but very happy to be found. They said they had acquired a substantial patch of chantrelles in the valley, and couldn't pull themselves away in time to avoid being caught by darkness and lost during the return trip. They basically had remained in place, blowing their whistle, until they heard the report of my pistol up on the ridge and decided to strike out toward the sound. A short distance later they said they caught the gleam of my red flasher, and then attempted to bear straight toward it.

The distant twinkling red light (which was me up in that fir tree) would intermittently appear and disappear as it was blocked by various obstacles, but they were always able to reacquire it by going from side to side. Eventually, in this manner they made their way slowly through the darkness, up to safety.

I appreciated these ladies' calm and thoughtful approach to solving their problem. I'm sure they were frightened (I remember how disturbing an experience it was when I found myself disoriented and lost in that same forest, last year, and it wasn't even pitch dark then as it was now), but to their credit they kept their spirits up and their wits about them, and never lost faith they would be found.

Lost? Head toward the light!
As we made our way home in the darkness, I thought much about how this experience was an analogy for my life. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we're all lost in a great, dark forest where there are many distractions. Disaster lies in all directions but one. While there are many directions we can wander, there really is only one way out of our dilemma, and we must listen very carefully for the voice of one crying out in the darkness, "This way, come this way! Climb higher! Don't be afraid, come toward the sound of my voice!"

And just as our lost hunters eventually saw that red light twinkling, high in the tree up on the hillside where their party awaited them, and guessed they were on the right path, renewing their energy and determination in their journey toward safety, so we must all of us who are lost look for the blood-stained Cross. Jesus told His disciples: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).

An additional lesson came from what our lost hunters told me when they, too, began to hear the distant horn honks. They were coming in a different direction from the sound of my voice and that of the pistol I was firing. They said they were tempted to turn toward the sound. But they decided instead (fortunately) to continue along the original path toward the sounds that I was making. (The honking was being done by one of our party who had taken one of our two cars further to the south to see if the women might have followed the trail the wrong direction, as it looped around to the south and then back east. It was a good idea, but he didn't realize that honking the horn from that direction might prove a distraction.)

Pilgrim's Progress author John Bunyan speaks of this eloquently. As we are making our journey toward the Cross, there are many distractions off what Scripture calls "the straight and narrow path." We must keep our eyes fixed on that distant goal, our ears fixed on listening to His voice. If we turn from the path and find ourselves lost, our only choice is to turn back, to retrace our footsteps, and to reacquire that straight and narrow path toward our goal. That is the nature of repentance called for in the Scriptures.

There are no shortcuts on the straight and narrow path! It's upward and onward, ever pressing toward the Cross.

1 comment:

Larry Short said...

And I also wanted to mention ... fortunately, the closer we draw to our goal (the Cross), the brighter it's light appears, and the more clearly we can hear His voice! If His light seems dim and His voice distant at this point in your life, my encouragement would be to continue pressing upward. I promise that it will grow brighter and His voice clearer, the nearer you draw toward your goal. Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Invest your strength in the journey, and your heart will rejoice as you draw nearer your goal!