The air at Salt Point State Park is the first thing that hits you when you step out of the truck, that and the beauty and serenity of our north coast. The salt air perfumes your senses as you begin to hike up to your favorite spot. It is always such a treat to see the old friends growing there, a favorite Huckleberry patch there, the curve in the trail up ahead and an old Redwood log with new growth sprouting from the fallen parent. The sounds of Highway One become muted as you gain distance and the surf becomes a sedate white noise as the individual wave sounds merge. That feeling of being in church comes to mind when the stillness of the deep forest pleasantly overwhelms your senses. Up ahead is the big Huckleberry thicket you have had success with in the past. Approaching slowly, while checking the deep saw grass for mushrooms in the many pathways, occupies your heightened sense of excitement. You stand at the edge and peek around, then gently spread open a spot with your walking stick to peer inside, nothing growing. Passing around the whole thicket yields zero, time to move on.
An hour into the foray and your basket is empty, a few in-edibles and a stately, pale green Amanita stands silent watch over the forest, the warning to the unwary, ‘Eat me and you die’ is loud and clear to visitors. Passing under a grove of Redwoods their scent of Cedar envelopes you, although much lighter and less potent than ‘fragrant’ Cedar, it is comforting to be with these giants.
Stumbling over an old snag your first Bolete of the season is waiting to be found by you. It is so perfect it takes your breath away. The brown cap, much like a baked dinner bun, sits atop a big, white vase that is attached to the mycellium underground. Taking time to check around, lest you step on another mushroom, you then approach. It is perfect! Time for a quick photo before you harvest the little beauty. A few taps on the cap reveal a solid interior, not yet ravaged by bugs. The small flies that love this mushroom attack as soon as the fungus emerges from the duff, if they find it before you do. A careful slice under the base cuts the mushroom from the mycellium. Some think this harms the underground living thing, it does not. Think of the mycellium as an underground apple tree, no more harm is done to the tree than picking an apple. The real issue is the spore; a mushrooms job is to drop spore so that the species lives on. One way to help that along is to whittle the dirt off the base, this drops many spore clinging to the mushroom. Another way to spread the spore is to carry it in a loose weaved basket, as you bound along like little Mary Sunshine the spore scatters along your path.
Back at the truck you have half a dozen King Bolete, about three pounds, a very good day. There is still the ocean as you unpack your picnic, the salt air, the quiet trees. In all an excellent day to spend in the natural beauty.
To take a look at the King Bolete, do a Google image search of the same. For a recipe search Porcini, Italian for little pig. To learn more about this prime edible, go to Mykoweb. To find one and learn the craft of a responsible mushroom hunter, join one of the many mushroom clubs on their forays. Full baskets to you.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.