The First Mushroom Hunt of Autumn 2016

Limited success and a bunch of new mushrooming resources.

Cooler weather is upon us and that means the chanterelle mushrooms are coming into season.

Last Friday morning I went out for a hike/mushroom hunt with my hiking friend, Sue. Sue knows all kinds of things about plants and animals and even rocks, so going on a hike with her is a great learning experience. And although she doesn’t eat mushrooms, her husband does and she’s always game to go hunting with me.

The Hike

We chose a trail we both like up Icicle Creek beyond Leavenworth, WA. It’s a bit of a drive — about 50 miles from my home, including more than 10 on gravel. Another mushrooming friend of mine claimed she’d found chanterelles right on the trail. I was doubtful and I think Sue was, too. So as we hiked, we took occasional forays into the forest on one side of the trail or the other, right where we thought chanterelles might grow. I did find a very nice coral-type fungus that we believe is edible; I took it with me to examine more closely later.

Then it happened: Sue found a golden chanterelle mushroom growing right alongside the trail. While she harvested it, I combed the area looking for more. She joined me. We came up empty.

I should mention here that chanterelles are pretty easy to identify. They normally have sort of misshapen caps and the gills on the underside are more like ridges or wrinkles than regular mushroom gills. They normally extend down the mushroom’s stem. You can find photos on WikiMedia. There are some “false” chanterelles and a similar looking poisonous variety called Jack O’Lantern, but it’s pretty easy to distinguish these from real chanterelles, which are prized as tasty mushrooms. If you’re interested in hunting for chanterelles, study up first and make sure you know what you’re looking for and where you might find them.

We got to a point in the trail where we were within a quarter mile of a place I’d found chanterelles the previous year and took a little detour to check it out. I walked us over to where I found them and we searched the ground. It seemed too dry. I gave up quickly and moved off to another nearby spot, but Sue stuck with it. Soon she called out “I found one!”

I hurried back. She pointed it out and I took a photo. Then we saw one nearby that was just poking out of the forest duff.

And that’s when I started seeing little mounds all over the place. Lots of young chanterelles just popping out of the ground.

Young Chanterelle
A young chanterelle mushroom, just poking out of the ground.

I used my new pocketknife — I bought one with a bright orange handle so I wouldn’t lose it while mushroom hunting — to dig a few out and put them in my bag. They were all a yellowish white color with a relatively regular looking cap. I showed one to Sue and she confirmed that they were chanterelles.

We continued to hunt in that area before getting back on the trail. Sue found some other mushrooms in various stages of decay — russulas. None of them were worth keeping, even if they were of edible varieties.

We finished our hike and headed home, stopping in Leavenworth for lunch and to buy smoked meats (Cured), wine (Ryan Patrick), and cheese (Cheesemonger).


If there’s a golden rule to hunting for edible mushrooms, it’s this: never eat a mushroom you find unless you are certain that it’s edible.

side of mushroom

top of mushroom

mushroom gills

inside mushroom
Several views of one of the mushrooms I harvested on Friday. When trying to get help with identification, it’s important to show as much detail as possible.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the five chanterelles I’d found. They were all smaller and much more “perfect” looking than any chanterelle I’d ever seen. What if Sue was wrong? What if they weren’t chanterelles and I ate them?

I combed through my mushroom books. None of the pictures matched what I had. I started to write Sue a warning email.

I posted some photos on Facebook, trying to see if any of my friends could advise me. Then I looked for and found three different mushroom identification groups on Facebook and signed up for each of them. I couldn’t post photos until I was approved for membership, though.

Then, as usual, I got sidetracked by something else and didn’t give it another thought until morning.

On Saturday morning, I was thinking about a chanterelle mushroom omelet. So I took my morning coffee to the computer and began searching the internet. I knew there was something called a false chanterelle, and I looked it up. That’s where I learned that false chanterelles have normal fin-like gills while real chanterelles have the wrinkle- or ridge-like gills. There was another chanterelle look-alike called a jack o’lantern that was definitely poisonous, but what I’d picked had very little in common with that. (Keep in mind that although I’m linking primarily to Wikipedia articles here, I consulted many sources.)

I finished the email to Sue and sent it. Then I kept researching. I wanted so badly to eat my mushrooms but I didn’t want to get sick. I’d been approved for all three mushroom identification groups on Facebook so I took and sent photos, including the ones you see here. I kept researching while I waited to hear back.

Around that time, I found a trio of photos on the Mushroom Forager website’s page about Hedgehog Mushrooms. It illustrated three similar mushrooms. The middle photo was almost identical to what I had.

Mushroom Gills
This image, which can be found at The Mushroom Forager website, helped convince me I had chanterelles.

I started cutting up my chanterelles for an omelet.

Then I checked back with Facebook. The mushroom identification group members were starting to chime in. The first few were pretty sure that it wasn’t chanterelles. I put the mushrooms away in a container in the fridge and had an omelet without mushrooms.

Throughout the day, more responses trickled in. And this is where the group dynamics really come into play. Some were sure that they weren’t chanterelles. Some were sure that they were. So I really wasn’t any better off than I’d been before consulting the groups.

Finally, late in the day, some folks who obviously knew a lot about mushrooms started responding. They identified the type of chanterelle with its genius and species: cantharellus subalbidus. While some group members argued with them, they were firm. They provided additional information about the area in which they grow: old growth forests like the one I’d been in. One even provided a link to a page that illustrated it.

I should mention here that of the three groups I joined, the Mushroom Identification Page group seemed to have the most knowledgeable participants, although none of them were free of people who offered incorrect information based on limited facts. (I really need to do a blog post about Facebook group dynamics.)

I should mention that by this time, Sue had also responded to my email. She was certain it was a cantharellus subalbidus, too. She has some resources where she looked them up. I guess she didn’t want to poison her husband!

Feasting on My Find

That evening, I sautéed some thinly sliced veal and prepared a chanterelle cream sauce for it. I had it with a side of fresh steamed green beans from my garden and glass of sauvignon blanc. Delicious.

I finished up the mushrooms the next day by cooking them into an omelet with some scallions and buckboard bacon. Very tasty.

This was my fourth mushroom hunting trip and the second for chanterelles. (I hunted twice for morels this spring.) I marked the GPS coordinates for my find and plan to return this week. Although it hasn’t rained, I’m hoping that cool, shady area of the forest is damp enough for the chanterelles to grow.

I really enjoy collecting my own food, whether it’s foraging in the forest for seasonal mushrooms, gleaning from an orchard after harvest, tending my own garden, or collecting eggs from my chickens. There’s something very special about having that kind of connection with your food.

But best of all, you can’t beat it for freshness.

The Bighorn Sheep in My Yard

Wild Kingdom* out my window.

There are bighorn sheep in the cliffs across the road from my home. I often hear them clattering around in the rocks, creating mini landslides. I’ve also seen them quite often.

Last year, they’d show up pretty regularly across the street in my neighbor’s yard. By regularly, I mean around midday every day. For weeks. I even had the misfortune of seeing my neighbor outside, buck naked, taking photos of them when I was watching them through binoculars and movement caught my eye.

They were gone for quite a while. Sure, I’d hear them up in the cliffs and the sound would often get Penny all worked up. Despite numerous helicopter rides with me, her hearing remains excellent and she often hears them before I do.

A few weeks ago, they started showing up again. A pretty big herd of mostly females. One time, they even put on quite a show for some weekend guests who’d come with their RV. We sat up on the deck having a late breakfast while they grazed on weeds in my neighbor’s yard.

Bighorn Sheep
It wasn’t easy to take photos of the sheep at the road; the sun was right behind them.

The other day, they were on my side of the road. I watched them, fearing that they might start grazing on the willow trees I’d planted alongside the road last year. But they seemed more interested in the weeds than the trees. Good.

Penny and Sheep
A cropped cell phone picture of Penny facing off with one of the sheep.

On Thursday, I was working on some shelves in my garage when Penny started barking at something. Turned out that she was near the end of the driveway, facing off with one of the bighorn sheep. I managed to get a photo with my phone before the sheep bounded off. I mean that quite literally — it ran off with a hopping motion that was actually quite funny to see. But what really surprised both Penny and me was that the sheep wasn’t alone — are they ever? There were at least a dozen more in my front yard, hidden from view by the tall weeds and my shed. They took off after their friend, running across the road.

I took a break and went upstairs for some lunch. I ate out on the deck. The sheep had moved into the road about halfway down my property line. Some of them were actually lying down in the road. I live on a dead end road and there are only three occupied homes beyond mine, so there isn’t much traffic.

Cathedral Rock Traffic Jam
Seriously? Lying down in the road?

Eventually, however, one of my neighbors went out. Even though they obviously saw the sheep — how could you possibly miss a herd right in the road? — and they drove slowly, the sheep moved.

Into my yard.

As I watched, they came closer and closer to my home. I know they saw me up on the deck watching, but they didn’t seem too interested. They came to the north side of my place, the side that faces the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley. They were nibbling on the tops of the native grass and weeds that grow wild there. (I have 10 acres and the vast majority of it has “nature’s landscaping.”) They came closer and closer. At one point, one of them was right at the edge of the gravel drive, not 100 feet from where I watched from the deck.

Herd of Bighorn Sheep
My Nikon was handy and I’d popped the 70-300mm lens on it when they first came into the yard. They were so close that I had to zoom all the way out to capture this group of the herd. This is 70mm from my deck, uncropped. A handful of others didn’t fit in the frame.

They were beautiful. And healthy. Adult females mostly, with a few youngsters.

Another shot from my deck. This was shot at 300mm and is not cropped. They were close!

This is the video I Periscoped. It’s a shame it saves a downsampled version of the video.

I took pictures, of course. Lots of pictures. And video. I did a live broadcast on Periscope and another on Facebook. I wanted to share my experience with my friends. (I guess that’s what this blog post is about.)

I’d left the door open and when I saw them looking down at something, I followed their glance. Penny was out there, sizing them up. I didn’t want her scaring them off so I called her, softly. She seemed to debate whether she should come. But then she trotted back into the house and up the stairs. She joined me on the deck to watch them and stayed quiet.

And then they just left. After about 20 minutes grazing in my side yard, one of them headed off purposefully and the others followed. I watched them go. They crossed my driveway and then the road and headed back up toward the cliffs.

Did they come back yesterday when I was out hiking and hunting for mushrooms with a friend? I don’t know, but I bet they did. And I bet they came back today when I was out doing helicopter rides in Quincy. Tomorrow, I plan to get some work done at home. Maybe I’ll see them again.

I hope so.

* Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was a television show about animals that originally aired from 1963 until 1988. I grew up watching this show. A new version began airing on Animal Planet in 2002. Learn more here and here.

The “Million Dollar View”

A friend reminds me about what I now take for granted.

Not sure if anyone is noticing, but I’m doing my best to blog every morning these days. That means keeping them short when I have other stuff to do. And believe me, I have a lot of other stuff to do.

I’m ready to declare email bankruptcy and just clear all of this out.

After spending about an hour with my coffee and nightmarish email inbox, I looked up and realized that the sun had come up. I looked out my side windows — the ones facing the Wenatchee Valley and Columbia River — and was instantly rewarded with the amazing view I’ve come to take for granted.

My Amazing Morning View
Here’s what I see most mornings, right from my windows. Not too shabby, eh? Click the photo to view a much larger version where you can see the detail — including my “Lookout Point” bench in the bottom right.

I had a friend over for dinner last night. As the sun was setting, she remarked that I had a “million dollar view.” I looked out and agreed that it was beautiful. (I didn’t mention that it so often looked better.) I told her that it looked best in the morning in the golden hour light, when the low-lying sun cast deep shadows that bought out the texture of the mountains and hillsides. Like in the photo above. Same in the afternoon, when the cliffs across the river were illuminated just right. (Note to self: add photo of that.)

I’m a view person, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog. Looking out and seeing the world around me energizes me and puts me at peace — at the same time. Yes, I like tall pine trees and forests and canyons, but being surrounded by those things in tight quarters would stifle me, making me feel closed in and possibly smothered. Being able to look out and see for miles and miles makes me feel good about myself and my world.

The seasons are changing now; autumn is coming. The view changes with the seasons. Right now, the cherry orchard on the right has irrigation turned off and is being allowed to die; I suspect that when apple harvest is done, they’ll tear out those trees. Will they get new ones in before winter? Probably not; it’ll be a project I can watch in the spring. There’s still a tiny bit of snow up in the Enchantments, which are hidden in this photo by the low clouds on the left. The river bends as it makes its way into Wenatchee; in the evening, it reflects the changing color of the sky.

So much to see, right from my windows. Like an ever-changing series of paintings, a triptych with more than just three panels, separated by a few inches of wall between each view.

I cannot express how glad I am that my life took the turn it did back in 2012 when I became free to make all of my life decisions. That freedom made it possible to buy 10 acres of undeveloped land high on a cliffside shelf overlooking an amazingly beautiful valley. It made it possible for me to plan and build the home I wanted, a home that would meet my needs and bring this view into every room.

A “million dollar view”? That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s priceless to me.

May Morel Mushrooms

I find and bag my first morel mushrooms.

Science Friday, an NPR radio show (also available as a podcast), did a show last Friday about mushroom hunting. It got me interested in mushrooms all over again.

Last October, I attended a weekend-long seminar at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center about mushrooms. We learned about mushrooms, hunted for mushrooms, identified mushrooms, and ate mushrooms. It was a fun weekend.

About a week later, I went mushroom hunting in the Leavenworth area with one of the other seminar attendees. We didn’t do too well, but didn’t come back empty handed, either: two chanterelles, some oyster mushrooms, and something else I can’t remember. I took home the chanterelles; my companion took the rest. I returned to the area several times since then but haven’t had any success.

I’d pretty much given up on doing any serious mushroom hunting.

And then Science Friday did their story, “Mushrooms: On the Hunt for Edibles.” And I started thinking about foraging for mushrooms all over again. After all, it was the right season for them and I knew places where the conditions might be right. So I emailed my hiking buddy Susan, who also has some mushroom foraging experience, and asked her if she was interested. Of course she was! We went out around 9 AM Monday morning.

We took the Jeep up into the mountains. That’s about as specific as I’ll get for the location. As any serious mushroom hunter will tell you, locations are never divulged. Morel mushroom hunting is serious business in Washington state; hordes of hunters cross the Cascades every weekend this time of year. Some are commercial hunters; Susan says morels are worth about $30/pound. Others are hobbyists like us who use a mushroom hunt as an excuse to get outdoors and walk around in the woods.

Although we were unable to take the Jeep as far as I’d hoped, we parked at a familiar parking area, grabbed our bags, and headed into the woods. Penny ran ahead. For the next three hours, we wandered around the underbrush on either side of trails or roads, looking for just the right environmental conditions.

Trouble was, I didn’t know the right environmental conditions. I’d never hunted for morels. The only thing I’d every heard was that they grew in areas damaged by forest fires. The Science Friday story said they grew under oak and apple trees, but we don’t have oak trees here and there aren’t any apple trees other than in orchards.

After wandering around the woods off to one side of the road, Susan climbed back down to the road. “I think there’s an easier way down over here,” she called back from up ahead.

Morel Mushrooms
From my first find. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Morel Mushrooms
Can you see all five mushrooms here? Hint: two of them are together.

Morel Mushroom
Here’s a closeup of one of the last morels I found. As you might imagine, from a distance, pinecones look similar.

I made my way through the underbrush. I was about halfway down the steep slope when I looked down and saw it: a very large morel mushroom. Within seconds, I’d seen three more.

They were beautiful — I mean, really beautiful. Perfectly shaped, popping up through the dirt looking clean and brown and exactly the way a morel should. I took photos. I marked GPS coordinates on my phone. And then I cut them and put them into my canvas bag.

Susan found the next batch not far away and packed them away in a paper bag she’d brought for the purpose.

We talked about the conditions they were growing in. Plants growing nearby. Moistness. Amount of sunlight. We found things in common between the two patches. We began getting a real idea of what to look for.

We continued wandering around, on and off the road, for the next two hours. We took turns finding mushrooms. At one point, Susan found a huge one about three inches from my foot and I spotted a smaller one nearby. At another point, I found five of them within a square foot of space. Much later, the two of us, working within 15 feet of each other, found several patches of them.

Now I don’t want you to think that the mushrooms were all over the place. Well, mushrooms were all over the place — mostly shiny brown round ones — but the morels were elusive. One of us would find a patch and then twenty minutes might go by before the other found a patch. We were out there for three hours and we each brought back maybe enough for a meal. I weighed mine when I got home: 9 ounces.

It was fun and, because we weren’t getting skunked, it never got frustrating.

It was nearly 1 PM when we called it quits. We’d only walked a little more than a mile according to my GPS tracker.

I drove us back to Susan’s place and took a quick tour of her backyard rose bushes and gardens. We talked about the mushrooms we’d found and how we each planned to double-check that we’d found morels and not false morels, which were not recommended for consumption. Then I headed home.

Later, I laid out the mushrooms I’d brought home to take a photo. I also weighted them on my postal scale: 9 ounces even. Good thing we weren’t hunting mushrooms for a living.

Morel Mushrooms
Not bad for a first time out, eh?

Dinner tonight or tomorrow: Pizza with Ramps, Morels, and Eggs. I might also try one of the recipes I found for fried morels.

And since mushrooms grow so quickly, there’s a pretty good chance there will be more to pick later this week in the same places we found them today. I’m game for another outing on Friday. I hope Susan is, too.

The Turtleback

Downsizing…because I can.

One of the great things about being single — and believe me, there are lots of great things — is the fact that you simply don’t need as much living space. While two might be able to live as cheaply as one, two can never live comfortably in as little space as one. So not only can I live in a smaller home (1200 square feet vs. 2400 square feet), but I can also travel with a much smaller RV.

And travel is something I love to do. Whether for a weekend, a week, or an entire season, nothing beats hitting the road and exploring new places or revisiting old places with friends. That just wasn’t as easy as it should be when I was towing a 36-foot fifth wheel with four slides. Yes, when I parked, I was extremely comfortable, with enough living space to throw a party for a dozen friends. But getting the damn thing parked took a lot more effort than I wanted to put into it. And finding a place where it could fit wasn’t always easy.

I bought the Mobile Mansion back in 2010, after my then-husband promised he’d hit the road with me during the summer months when I came north for cherry drying. I needed enough space for two full-sized people and a mid-sized dog to live comfortably for four to six months. The Mobile Mansion was perfect for that use. Unfortunately, I wound up not needing all that space, since my husband apparently had no intention of joining me as he’d promised. In 2012, he started the wheels turning to become my wasband. (That turned out to be the best thing that happened to me in a very long time.)

I lived in the Mobile Mansion while I built my new home — so it was a very good thing I had it. It was comfortable, except during the winter months when I made other arrangements. Last summer, after moving into my new home, I used it as an AirBnB rental parked right on my driveway, getting $79/night with a two night minimum almost every weekend from July 4th through October 15. Then it went on a sale lot in East Wenatchee.

Quartzsite CampsiteThe Mobile Mansion parked in the desert near Quartzite in January 2016.

By December, I decided to spend the winter snowbirding and fetched it off the lot for a trip south. I spent a happy six weeks in Arizona, Nevada, and California, living mostly off the grid along the Colorado River with friends between stays in another friend’s guest house. Truck problems got it stuck in California for a while, but I brought it home again last month, cleaned it up again, and put it on a sale lot in North Wenatchee.

Over the winter, I’d been thinking hard about options for replacing the Mobile Mansion with something smaller and easier to travel with. My first inclination had been to go with a small — think 16 to 20 feet — bumper pull trailer. Then I happened to take a look at a truck camper for sale in Quartzsite. I struck a deal to trade the Mobile Mansion for the camper and pocket about $12,000, but I hesitated. I hadn’t wrapped my brain around the huge downsizing yet. By the time I was ready — only a week later! — the rig was gone. So I stuck with the Mobile Mansion for the rest of the winter.

But that truck camper had planted a seed. When I got home and placed the Mobile Mansion in the sale lot, I started looking for a truck camper I could live with.

My truck is huge. It’s a 1-ton diesel with 4WD, a crew cab, and a long bed. They don’t get much bigger than this and still fit in a regular garage. Because of its size, I could get a large truck camper. In fact, I sort of had to get a large truck camper.

I looked at a few dealer lots in the Tri-Cities area, then started combing Craig’s List. And that’s when I found the 2005 Lance in Moses Lake.

I went down to look at it. Moses Lake is about a 90-minute drive, although it’s only 55 miles away. The couple who owned it were the original owners and they had taken very good care of it. It was parked in an RV garage when I saw it. It was clean and it was loaded.

The Slide
The dinette and refrigerator are on the slide.

There’s plenty of storage beside the bathroom.

Want a list of features? Here are the highlights: slide for dinette and large refrigerator with separate freezer, queen sized bed, double sink, convection microwave, three-burner stove, television, satellite dish antenna, regular antenna, AM/FM stereo with CD/DVD player, landing gear with remote, two awnings, 2500 watt generator that can be started with the push of a button, tons of storage, skylight in bedroom, lots of windows, day/night shades on most windows (they’re not allowed in kitchen areas, probably due to fire hazard near stove), outdoor shower, wet bathroom (that’s where you shower in the same space as the toilet and sink), air conditioning, heat, two 7-gallon propane tanks, ladder to roof, solar panel that keeps the batteries charged. These are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. The slide is quite large — when it’s open, there’s a ton of floor space. So even if I did happen to go camping with a friend, we wouldn’t be tripping over each other.

The kitchen is small but functional.

Wet Bath
“Wet bath” means you shower in the same space as the toilet and sink.

The price was a bit more than I wanted to spend, but it was in line with Nada RV Guide pricing for a unit its age. And it was in very good condition. The couple was nice. They clearly loved the RV and had made a lot of memories in it. They were sad to sell it. But they’d just bought a fifth wheel almost as big as mine and although they thought they’d use the truck camper once in a while, they realized they wouldn’t. After a year of owning both, they’d decided to sell.

We talked money. I suggested lower price. I hate haggling but he accepted my offer. I got the feeling that they wanted to sell it to me.

I told them I needed to sleep on it and research the truck modifications I’d need to get done to get the camper fastened down on my truck. On the way home, I stopped for dinner at Cave B Winery. Before I was done, I’d decided.

It took me two weeks to get the hardware I’d need on the truck installed. In the meantime, I built a small trailer for the 100LL fuel tank that was in the back of my truck and had the tank moved to it. The tank would come in handy in Quincy, where two pilots would be working for me in June. Then more delays as I had a multi-day aerial photo gig for a favorite client in the area. Finally, with rain forecasted for Wednesday, May 4, I called the owners and made arrangements to meet with them.

The owners were just as gracious to me that day as they were when I first came to see the camper. The husband spent at least an hour with me, showing me how to hook it up and pointing out all kinds of things I’d need to know. (Of course, they had all manuals for the camper gathered up in an envelope under one of the dinette benches.) He backed the truck up under the camper, gave me a wooden rig he used as a spacer to prevent himself from backing up too far, and showed me how to retract the legs. Then we pulled it out onto his driveway and fastened it down to my truck, using fasteners he threw in at no extra charge. Then, while I was doing the paperwork with his wife, he checked my tire pressures and even added air to the airbags at the back end of my truck. Before I left, he took a picture of it — he said he wanted to show his friends the truck he’d put it on. Oddly enough, he has the same truck as me — just one year newer.

When we were all done, we parted ways and I started the long trip home.

The camper, which probably weighs about 3,000 pounds, rides well on back of my truck. I can definitely feel its weight and the higher center of gravity. But my truck gets much better mileage than when I towed the Mobile Mansion and parking it was no trouble at all.

After a stop for lunch in a neat little bistro in George, WA, and a quick trip to the supermarket, I drove over to the RV dealer where I’d left the Mobile Mansion. Way back when I first bought it, I’d replaced the mattress and I wanted to swap them out. That done, I made a stop to pick up some oil for the helicopter before heading home.

The Turtleback
The Turtleback, parked in my driveway with the slide out. And yes, it will fit in the RV garage. After all, the Mobile Mansion fit in there and this is a heck of a lot smaller.

I spent a few hours loading some of the Mobile Mansion’s gear — hoses, cords, cookware, dishes, etc. — into the new RV, which I’d christened the Turtleback on the long drive home. I still need to make the bed and store some extra linens. Most of what I needed from the Mobile Mansion fits into the Turtleback — it has a surprising amount of storage space.

At this point, I’m thinking about taking it up to the National Forest at Leavenworth for a few days on a maiden voyage. There’s a nice campground about 17 miles up Icicle Creek with a good 3-mile loop trail running through it. I’m sure it will be mostly empty mid-week. If I go, I’ll report back here.