The Nature of Perspective

We are blessed with the most kind, generous neighbors here. They’ve welcomed us in with offerings of all sorts– moral support, most invaluably– including history and context of the area and its people. Those we’ve met have driven by the place for decades, and all have deeply lamented the recent clear-cut of the long-preserved forest. Part of that forestland is ours.

It’s not contrived optimism to say that I see it differently. Of course I wish the forest were intact. I can imagine, partly by exploring neighboring woodlands, the old-growth trees and native fauna. I can envision the cool dampness, the moss and myriad mushrooms. I know that it was majestic.

But: I consider our perspective a unique boon in that what we see now is not only an incredible improvement on the gnarled hillside we met last summer; it’s an awakening. The emerging vegetation would not have been part of the forest floor. We get to enjoy a different, ever-expanding beauty.

The enmeshed branches of too-small cut timber are increasingly consumed by vine maples, wild cherry, and hazelnut trees. The deer trails through berry brambles– which will soon yield abundant delicious fruit– are lined with heady flowering clover and pineapple weed. The meadows are strewn with daisies, red clover, sky-blue forget-me-nots, and innumerable other wildflowers.

There are unfurling ferns, columbine, and more wild food than I could list, but much of which we’ve been collecting, eating, and cooking with daily. Most of the plants, in fact, are edible, from the wild strawberries to the thistles.

The ugly sporadic burn piles host the most coveted of fungi.

This story would be a different one if the forest were still here. It would be someone else’s story that we would continue; this one is all our own. Ours is a story of regrowth.

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Forest land brims with energetic life, beckoning us to be still and let the sounds and creatures and flora creep slowly into our awareness. One of the most magical aspects of our new home is its likeness to our most beloved place on Earth, the family cabin. To have woods and a chortling creek in our own front yard is an immeasurable blessing.

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Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

I was lucky enough to come across a heavy load of gorgeous shaggy mane mushrooms in a kind woman’s yard. When they emerged last year around this time, I asked to pick them but when I returned to do so, they’d all been stomped by children. I wasted no time this fall the moment they nodded through the turf.

Shaggy manes (coprinus comatus) are tasty members of the inky cap family, all of which dissolve into black goop with rapidly elapsing age. They’re common, widespread, and among the more easily identified of wild fungi, which make them a good choice for novice mushroom hunters.

The only disclaimer, besides to always make a full and complete identification (my favorite book for doing so is Mushrooms Demystified by the brilliant David Arora) is to use caution– or avoid altogether– consuming any inky caps with alcohol, as adverse reactions may occur. I have intimate experience with such reactions, and I’ll tell that story later this week. It speaks to the mystique and intrigue that seduces mycophiles, as well as the ever-present risks that are so often misinterpreted by the toadstool-wary.

I’ll be sauteing these whole or halved in plenty of butter with a sprinkling of fresh herbs and wild onions.

After The Rain

Most people probably don’t give grass a great deal of thought or attention. At least not usually. I’m sure I didn’t before we moved to the Central Valley of California.

It always gets hot here, topping 100 degrees for great stretches of the long summers. I remember visiting my grandfather as a child and marveling at the porch thermometer that read 92 degrees at 10 pm.

But we moved here just as this historic drought settled over the state, so it’s not just the heat. It’s that we haven’t seen rain, not more than a sprinkling or a rare ten-minute downpour, at any time of year. The ground is cracked and hose water just rolls into little black snowballs in the dust.

Over the past few weeks, there have been two or three momentous smatterings, so light and brief as to warrant little attention if they weren’t so unusual and so desperately needed. I didn’t think they could possibly ignite life.

The lack of grass, or weeds or wild greenery, has a more profound effect on life and attitude than I would have expected or had ever considered. The dull gray earth here, accentuated by the widespread use of herbicides around the abounding agricultural crops, is numbing. It’s ugly. It’s sad. Our free-range chickens leap into the backyard to eat every green morsel from our garden, and the sheep and goats mope dumbly between feedings.

Last year, in late-winter, a light rainfall extracted a comparable and fleeting flash of green, so I know it won’t last. That’s okay. Our new home will provide us with rain and grass and mushrooms sooner than any California rain will.

And in the meantime, there’s this.

I’m stunned and thrilled that the wild onions held a spark of life all this time. In a few weeks, they’ll be pickled with rosemary and honey.

If the mustard persists, we’ll be enjoying fresh greens soon.

Even an opportunistic squash seed seized the moment of satiety.

And one more survivor I did not expect, a calla lily whose flowers are enormous, dark purple curiosities with large black stamens. It’s been dormant– I thought dead– for two years.

Mushroom Hunts

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We’ve found a surprising number of mushrooms during in our time in California, considering the drought and lack of local wilderness.  Whenever and wherever some source of moisture reaches the earth, though, voyeuristic fungi spring up here and there. Our front pasture last year was crowded with meadow mushrooms; blewits occasionally line a nearby bike path.

But finding them here lacks the immense pleasure and satisfaction of a trek into the lush wilds of the Pacific Northwest, seeking the perfect humus, just the right fungi-friendly flowers and trees. The surroundings and adventure and methodical progress make mushroom-hunting an addictive delight and a pastime I yearn for on our return.

Perhaps best of all, our new property is flanked by a hundred acres of forest, freshly logged and being replanted this fall: among the most desirable and sought-after conditions for an optimum hunt.

We’ve dedicated dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fruitless hours to morel-hunting. Maybe– and how perfect it would be– we’ll finally find our first at home.