Wild Bounty

“Shroomin’! We’re goin’ shroomin’!” I was headed to Grand Mesa, Colorado, with my two grown sons for some outdoor recreation, our first time hunting edible mushrooms together. “Oh boy, shroomin’.”

Cyrus and Dylan exchanged smiles and rolled their eyes.

“Mom, you shouldn’t call it that. Most people will think you mean something else.” My sons were in the know. But their old Mom wasn’t so ignorant—I knew about getting high on psilocybin mushrooms. They didn’t know how worldly their Mom was. It was my little ha-ha moment. Say something a little goofy and make them think I was a dotard and clueless. Then have a good chuckle with myself.

My deadly amanita.

Cyrus was an experienced stalker of wild mushrooms. It had been a couple years since I’d hunted mushrooms. Dylan was a novice. He didn’t even like to eat them. Cyrus assured him once he tasted his prepared mushrooms, Dylan would change his mind.

Carrying pocketknives and a mesh bag, wearing our hiking boots and long sleeves to protect against mosquitos, we left the truck and walked into an open grassed area on Grand Mesa, headed for the tall fir trees. Just days earlier Cyrus had hunted mushrooms. He was confident we would collect as many as we wanted. Within minutes we were nearly tripping over (not from) all kinds of fungi.

Proper cleaning technique of a bolete.

“Bolete!” yelled Cyrus as he swooped down on a maroon-colored mushroom cap. He quickly detached it from the ground while Dylan and I watched in awe.

“See the underside of the cap? It has pores, not gills, so we know it’s a bolete.” Cyrus pulled out his pocketknife and scraped the dirt off its base. “We’ve got to clean each one before putting it in the bag or else everything gets dirty.” He wiped the scraped mushroom with a rag and dropped it into the mesh bag.

“You’re the sack boy, Dylan.” Cyrus was, after all, big brother and guide. Dylan accepted his role with little complaint.

Our adrenaline was pumping now. We walked on, examining mushrooms for eating possibilities, enjoying all of them for the spectacle. They seemed to pop around us everywhere—ranging in size from pinheads to mini frisbees, round or wavy-edged, cone shaped or spherical, sometimes in coral-like clusters. Gloriously alone, in huddles, on logs, under low vegetation, peeking just above the soil, standing tall. And the colors—scarlets and mustard yellows, ashy greys, creamy whites—mottled and speckled and some glowing multi-hues like a sunset. A dessert plate sized mushroom and its smaller companions fluttered snowy white wings as if they would take off. Others materialized before our eyes as we stared into the forest floor camouflage of decaying leaves and vegetation.

Only a few varieties would go into our edible mushroom sack—the rest were a feast for our eyes only.

“What about this one, Cyrus?” I pointed my foot to a round white form on the earth, all sparkly and inviting.

“That’s a rock,” Cyrus said. I knew that. Of course I did.

We plunged deeper into the towering trees, supposedly headed for a patch of chanterelle mushrooms Cyrus had located on earlier forays. His two dogs went crazy chasing leaves and squirrels and each other and sniffing all the possibilities.

“Badger, get over here!” Cyrus frequently yelled at his Brittany spaniel, prone to bounding into the forest, never to return.

This is me the next day with a pile of chanterelles and Badger and Bella.

I felt the same excitement and fell behind, admiring and marveling over nearly every mushroom in my path. “Wait for me,” I cried half-heartedly, content to spend time with my discoveries.

Dylan forged ahead, now eager to find his own bolete jackpot, even though he was sure he would hate the taste of them once cooked. He and Cyrus easily walked over fallen trees and narrow streams, while I took the long way around everything, trying to find an easier route.

Down the hill and up again, through the brush we went, casting our eyes on the ground. We collected more boletes here and there, yelling whenever we found one.

“Look at the size of this one!”

“That one’s a doozy!”

“Wow, there’s a really old one, look at the colors!”

Dylan finds his bolete bonanza.

I pulled my pocket knife out to clean the base of a bolete. Scrape-scrape, turn, scrape, turn, scrape-scrape. I held my project close to my nose, inhaling the pungent fungal odor.

“Let me have that.” Cyrus grabbed the mushroom from my hand. “It’s too painful for me to watch.” He quickly cleaned off the dirt, yelled for the sack boy, and dropped in my mushroom. After that, I handed him my finds to clean in a few seconds rather than endure my halting cleaning work.

Dylan found his bolete bonanza—a whole patch of them.

“Good eye, Dylan! You’re a great mushroom hunter!” I wanted to make sure my younger son didn’t feel overshadowed by his big brother. I ended up squatting at his bonanza patch, batting mosquitos and cleaning most of the mushrooms coming out of the ground while the boys (grown men actually, I can’t help reverting to being Mom) harvested and searched for more.

Rain pattered the leaves and moved on, the sun sifted through branches and disappeared, the dogs zoomed, grasshoppers clicked, moist earth richness filled our nostrils. We never found the chanterelles, but I did find my Alice in Wonderland mushroom: an amanita, vibrant red speckled with cream, round and beautiful and deadly. While Bella the chocolate Labrador furiously dug into the earth after a disappearing rodent, I recorded multiple photos of the crimson jewel, bewitched by its fiery lure.

We climbed up to the road, certain we were going the opposite direction of the parked truck and anticipating a walk. But like magic, there it was, waiting for us.

“Hey, I was all turned around,” I said.

“Me too,” outdoorsy Cyrus admitted. Dylan made no comment; he was just following us with a hefty sack of mushrooms.

“Guess we’re shroomin’,” I said.

“We’re shroomin’,” Cyrus yelled.

“Yeah, shroomin’,” Dylan echoed.

Invigorated by our family jaunt, we headed for a feast of our wild bounty.

Even Dylan indulged later, reporting that wild boletes fried in butter tasted “okay.”

Edible hawk’s wings and boletes.

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