I have to admit, I've been in a rather prolonged blogging slump, and a lousy time it is to have one, too. What with the book just out, I ought to be keeping these pages sparkling with gorgeously appetizing photos, irresistible recipes, and scintillating prose. What I've been feeling, however, is a general feeling of: Meh. Or rather, that's how I feel when I'm back in Saint Paul, contemplating sitting down in my office, going through photos, transcribing recipes.
It's odd: Many times, out and about in Wisconsin, or even in my garden here in town, I've got sort of a running voiceover going for the blog, with a ton of things I'm eager to talk about: coming across the Hay River pumpkin seed oil crew processing pumpkins in Dunn County on a perfect fall day; picking the last of the apples, and pressing them into cider; picking nannyberries at Bide-A-Wee (which I'm still not sure what to do with); the whole lamb we roasted out at the cabin a couple of weeks ago; even the potato truck that turned over on Wisconsin highway 25 in downtown Ridgeland last weekend, sending a tidal wave of russets spewing across the roadway (no one was hurt; some townsfolk partook of the gleaning opportunity, filling drywall buckets with scattered spuds).
What I need to learn to do, I think, is to quell the internal narration and save all that inspiration for when I can use it. I really wanted to get a post up today, but nothing was coming. So I did what I often do when I'm backed up like that: I headed for the woods. The idea wasn't even so much a forage as just a head-clearing and a have-a-look-around. I can't remember when the last measurable rain fell here, and the woods were extremely dry the last time I went out, at least a couple of weeks ago. Not ideal conditions for mushroom hunting, to say the least. Pleasant for walking though, which creates a bit of a forager's paradox, that often the best times for foraging, the warm, damp times, are the least enjoyable times to be in the woods. Mushrooms, mosquitoes, deerflies, and nettles all like it wet and hot; me, I prefer cool and dry.
And then, you know, while it's always nice to come back from the woods with some material product of the foray, it's hardly ever a sure bet. If you're going to keep at it, you have to be able to deal with coming home from time to time with an empty collection basket.
Things actually started off in promising manner when I came upon a cluster of honey mushrooms (pretty sure those are armillaria mellea; I haven't gathered any in a couple of years, and I haven't gone through the ID process with these ones). Attractive though they were, and seemingly sound at first glance, I discovered that most of them were buggy--some sort of larvae had eaten their way up through the stipe and hollowed out the center of the cap. Nothing for the table there.
Around the base of the stump (oak, I believe) on which the honey mushrooms were growing were these specimens with the singularly unappetizing name of "abortive entolomas" . These blobbish white mushrooms occur when the entoloma abortivum fungus parasitizes the armillaria. These are edible, though I have never eaten them. Like the honey mushrooms, these were a little the worse for wear.
That turned out to be the fungal theme of the day: too dry, too late--shoulda been here last week, and what do we have to do to get a little rain around here. The most impressive fungal find of the morning was this:
I guess this is a hen of the woods, but a very washed-out looking one, indeed. (The grifola umbellata shown here looks more alike in color, but it's listed as very rare.) It's the biggest specimen I've found this year, and in some time. But this, too, was considerably past its prime, soft-textured, yellowed underneath, somewhat bug-infested.
And it went on that way. A barely-there sulfur shelf, or chicken of the woods:
A withering hen:
*****"The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight
The water mirrors a still sky...".
There are always the consolations of poetry. It wasn't twilight, and no water to be seen, but those lines from Yeats's "The Wild Swans at Coole" kept going through my head. Though the days of late have been unseasonably warm (bouncing back resoundingly from a frosty 25-degree morning at Bide-A-Wee last weekend), it certainly feels as if nature is staging its rehearsals for retirement. Keats wrote of the gathering swallows that twitter in the skies in autumn, but the turkey vultures are gathering, too, taking it all in from their splendid vantage until the north wind blows again to sail them south.
I came home empty-handed from this outing, but at once fuller and lighter of heart, if that makes any sense. And I didn't get a recipe out of it, but I got a little something to pass along, which I think is really what keeps this going, anyway. So: happy forays to all.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw