While bird hunting the mountain ranges that sandwich the Willamette Valley isn't always productive in a poultry sense, there's a seductive mistress that almost always salvages even the most embarrassing of upland efforts. Last weekend for instance, an hour east of my lowland home I parked the truck on a promising piece of National Forest, populated with a few rare old growth trees amidst a sea of reprod and Vine Maple. Fairly lost but with a general understanding of where I was, I geared up and let the dog out of the truck with a loose plan to walk logging roads and open understory in search of Ruffed Grouse.
Not two minutes from the truck, the dog crept along a patch of Snowberry and leapt into a thicket of young Alders growing along the road. Certain it was her usual pent-up energy and maybe a squirrel getting the best of her, I kept walking with little thought of birds. Two steps later and the unmistakable flutter of grouse wings exploded from the understory and I shouldered my shotgun with mouth agape as two birds crossed left to right not ten yards ahead of me.
As the birds flew off into the forest and my dog rebounded from the brush with a really dad? look on her face, I went to hang my head in shame but was halted by two blisteringly white spots uphill from where I stood. I rushed through the Alders and tore after the object of my attention and sure enough two big, beautiful mushrooms were poking through centuries of Doug Fir humus like pimples on a pizza-eating preteen.
Whether it's Chantrelles and Matsutakes in the Fall, or Morels in the Spring, there's something undeniably magical about mushrooms. Here today, gone tomorrow. One a delicacy, the other a death sentence. Mushrooms are shrouded in just enough secrecy and nunya* attitude that they make me feel like a little kid anytime I happen upon one. An almost certain find this time of year, I give thanks to these mystical little morsels everytime I take the dog into the woods. Whether a saving grace after a horrible shot, or icing on the cake after a limit of birds (something I've yet to experience), mushrooms add a wonderful layer to any day afield.**
**Special thanks to Conrad Gowell and the Holloway Family for putting up with my constant badgering about whether or not my latest find will, in fact, kill me if I eat it. And to Tiffany for trusting my judgement and eating what we bring home.