Late to the party

‘Twas the 4th of October and early that day,
  we packed up the car and sped on our way.
With clothing and munchies and even a peach,
  we drove many hours to reach Sunset Beach.
With all the rain promised and even some more,
  the northwest coastline should have plenty in store.
Visions of mushrooms and other cool stuff,
  living in the forest or popping up from the duff.
We traveled and hiked for miles each day,
  seeing beautiful parks with views of the bay.
With forests of spruce, hemlock, and pine,
  we searched each trail for something divine.
Just a mushroom or two to grace our fry pan,
  to make our rice dish a little less bland.
A Chanterelle, a Lobster, or a lovely Bolete,
something worth picking and tasty to eat.
The ground was moist and the moss was green,
  with moments of sunlight it felt so serene.
But where are the mushrooms Mr. David Arora?,
  all the rain promised and even some more-a.
Just a little Mycena and an old slimy Suillus,
  nothing worth picking or even to thrill us.
Days of hiking around like pirates so hearty,
  yet mushrooms so few they must be late to the party. 

I’m sure if Walt Whitman were alive today he would be very proud, that he didn’t write this poem. Although, in my defense, Walt most likely never went mushroom hunting and therefore never experienced being stood-up by a mushroom. While our trip to Sunset Beach was great with lots of amazing hikes and scenery, there were scant few mushrooms and those that did fruit were mostly inedible Saprobic species.

Located between Seaside and Astoria, Sunset Beach was the perfect starting point to visit many of the well forested state parks like Fort Stevens State Park, Ecola State Park, and Oswald West State Park. The forest floor was plenty moist and several trails we hiked were even quite muddy from all the rain.

So, where are the little buggers and why didn’t that amazing 2+ inch rainfall on the 18th and 19th of September energize them to start fruiting? In “normal” past years, a soaking September rain would set off the fruiting process within a few weeks. The only reasonable answer to this quandary is this summer was not like those of past years. This summer, like other more recent summers are becoming hotter and drier with more days exceeding 90 degrees. These factors create a great deal of stress on trees and other plants as well as drying out the substratum to deeper levels. This has an effect on both the health and vigor of plants as well as the behavior of fungal organisms. When resources get tight, it’s everyone for themselves. Remember how difficult it was to find toilet paper after Covid-19 started up. Really?; did we all need that much toilet paper? Were we having wipe-a-thon parties and I just didn’t get the invite?

In an email to Sandy, long time mycologist and author of “Mushrooms of Cascadia”, Michael Beug, put it this way; “The season will not be good even if we finally get good rains – since it was so hot and dry, few primordia formed over the summer and so the arrival of the rains only means that the few primordia that did form can fruit. I am seeing the usual things at the usual times but in very small numbers.” The primordia that Michael refers to are the small but visible beginnings of mushrooms. Michael lives and scouts for mushrooms on the Washington side of the Columbia river gorge on a 32 acre homestead. While weather events and their subsequent results  on mushroom fruiting are certainly local, all of the Western states endured a very long, hot and dry summer with unprecedented wild fires.

Ok downer Ron, so is there any good new? Well of course there’s good news. While our current mushroom season may not rank in the top ten, or perhaps even the top 20 of all time best years, there are still plenty of mushrooms to make everyone, or maybe most people, or some people happy. At least I know Sandy and I are happy, that’s two people. Now that we know the expected mushroom outlook, where are the best places to hunt them? Well, I would not recommend Ecola State Park right now but the coast is a great place to look for mushrooms given their cooler summer temperatures and foggy summer days that help create and maintain ground moisture. You may want to try higher elevation spots at the mountain passes (Willamette-Hwy 58 and Santiam- Hwy 126) and look for BLM and NF roads or trails that lead into the woods. Unfortunately, one section of the Aufderheide Scenic Byway (Forest Service Road 19) from the Hwy-126 side is still closed; however, just last week more of this roadway has been opened from the Hwy-58 side. That is great news as this roadway has both diverse terrain and varying elevations to explore. There are also many pullouts and side-roads off of FSR -19 to check out as well in that area.

Just think of this year as being more of an Easter-Egg hunt rather than a 10-minutes and your done, snatch-and-grab kind of a mushroom hunt. Patience is a virtue, and there is nothing wrong with being virtuous.  Remember that mushroom hunting is always more fun when you go with friends to share your experiences and to help keep track of where you parked your vehicle. Finally, it has been my experience that fungi do not adhere to anyone’s fruiting predictions. I have found mushrooms in areas where I said they would not be fruiting as well as the inverse. They have surprised me more than once, yet for some reason I still make predictions about their behavior. Remember, as Alexander Pope wrote back in 1734 in his poem An essay on Man that “Hope Springs Eternal”. Let’s go with that thought.

Happy Mushrooming and “Good night and good luck” (Edward R. Murrow),

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