SOMA Camp – The good, the bad, and the ugly

You may or may not remember the 1966 spaghetti-western movie starring Clint Eastwood that went by the same name as this article’s title, minus SOMA of course. When I thought about my first  SOMA camp experience, that movie title came to mind as Sandy and I encountered situations covering all three of these categories over the course of our trip.

The Ugly

The ugly part began well before we started our 547-mile drive from Eugene to our rental house in the artsy town of Sebastopol, California. Watching the weather portion of various TV programs made us think long and hard about even taking this trip. The local and national weather prognosticators were touting the nonstop destruction of California by the ongoing ravages of a Bomb Cyclone. What the heck is a Bomb Cyclone you ask? Well, according to Accuweather,  a Bomb Cyclone is “a storm system undergoing bombogenesis. In simple terms, bombogenesis is a storm (low pressure area) that undergoes rapid strengthening. The vast majority of such storms occur over the ocean.” In any event, while the drive down to Sebastopol included some rain, a little snow at the Siskiyou Pass, and even a little sunshine, we didn’t experience anything worthy of being called a bombogenesis event.

Therefore, I whole heartedly give the Ugly award to all those overly dramatic TV weather personalities clamoring about Bomb Cyclones that were reducing California to nothing but swampland. Shame on all of you for exaggerating the truth. This viewer would rather see far less weather drama and more weather facts. That said, I in no way want to diminish the effect these storm events had on flood prone areas of California or on the people who experienced consequences from them.

The Bad

There were a few issues that I would place into the bad category.  First up on the list was Sandy’s problems with registering for activities when SOMA first opened up class/foray registration. Even though Sandy was teaching several clay mushroom modeling classes, the registration number they gave her didn’t work. Consequently, Sandy had to email and call to get on the list for activities she wanted to attend. They also assigned her three class slots when she only signed up to give two. In addition, they exceeded the number of individuals per class that she had limited it to. I know Sandy will say it was no big deal but I know bad when I see it and this fiasco qualifies to be put on the bad list. On the positive side, SOMA personnel were eventually able to at least partially correct for these issues.

Second would be the slight chaos at the SOMA’s COVID testing tent and certainly at Friday morning’s registration. Everyone was still setting up for registration as the line kept growing. Fortunately, we had arrived at opening time when lines were shorter. Sandy actually grabbed a stack of registration cards to help find mine as no one behind the registration desk would assist. Not the best start to an event that had been ongoing for decades.

Third is California gas prices. Oregon gas prices always exceed the national average and California prices are higher still. We rented a Kia Sportage to better handle most bombogenesis weather conditions we might encounter. With more size, weight and horsepower comes diminished fuel economy; however, the extra safety and storage space was a worthwhile tradeoff. As they say, better safe than sorry.

The last item on the bad list occurred at an Italian restaurant in Redding on our drive home. These days it is difficult to find a well-made eggplant parmesan. So, after reading about this (not to be named) Italian restaurant in Redding with 4.5 out of 5 stars I was quite excited. We stopped there to eat lunch and I ordered the eggplant parmesan and luckily, Sandy didn’t. I’ll just say it was no 4.5 with my lunch being rated slightly above institutional food, which isn’t saying much. Next time I’ll stick with eating my peanut butter & jelly sandwich at a rest stop.

The Good

I saved the Good for last as science has shown that most readers only remember the last thing they read and I want that to be positive. A big round of applause goes out to all the SOMA event volunteer organizers, foray leaders, presenters, and craft instructors for an outstanding job. Sandy had a great time teaching her clay mushroom modeling classes and all her attendees went home happy along with their skillfully made chanterelle clay mushroom.

Since we stayed at a very conveniently located rental house near the SOMA camp, we ate breakfast there but we didn’t miss a single, superbly prepared dinner. The pre-dinner wine/beer/cheese socials each evening were fabulous and followed by an even more extravagant mushroom filled dinners.

SOMA camp’s guest chef and kitchen staff would start their prep work in the early afternoon as each meal was made from scratch. Mushrooms were certainly on the menu and everyone had a choice between selecting omnivore or vegan prepared meals. The dining hall was always noisily humming with the sound created from dozens of simultaneous table top conversations. Some tables were fully occupied by long time attendees and some were filled with newbies just looking for an empty seat. Naturally, we fell into the latter half of that group which worked out very well. It only took a few minutes to meet your new table mates and topics ranged from mushroom hunting experiences to just about everything else. Our group couldn’t talk enough about the delicious food and all the wine being served certainly lowered everyone’s inhibition to talk to strangers. As others had previously told us, the dinners at SOMA camp are always marvelous.

Finally, it was time for us to head back to Eugene. With our missions accomplished and having survived the Bomb Cyclone, we headed north toward home. Unlike our mostly rainy drive to Sebastopol, the skies were clear blue and there was little wind to speak of. With the exception of our Italian restaurant stopover, our trip home was uneventful and the views of Mt. Shasta were stunning. All in all, it was an interesting adventure and the good certainly outweighed any ugly or bad that we encountered. I would like to check the box and just say “been there, seen it, done it” but knowing Sandy she’ll want to check the box that says “been there, liked it, want to go back”. Regardless of what happens next year, I’ll know better than to watch all the dramatic weather forecasting that sells commercial time but does very little to accurately educate the viewer. I’ll also skip any urges to stop for eggplant parmesan and instead stick with homemade sandwiches.

Take care and remember to set aside time to stop and smell the roses.

A post script from Sandy

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed SOMA Camp, and I am glad to see that even though I have not yet been asked I have been placed on the 2024 SOMA Camp Schedule (I also see Cheshire). And, I assure you that Ron would not be talking about attending next year if he was not also thoroughly impressed.  I am actually hoping he will teach a beginners ID class with me next year. Yes, it was a little chaotic the first day, but it has been 3 years since the last SOMA Camp was held. In my opinion taking on an event of this scale is a phenomenal undertaking for any mycological society. There are few other places that you can meet and talk to dozens of “mycostars” at one event. From mushroom book authors to celebrity chefs and dedicated mycology researchers. No wonder Eugenia Bone, author of Mycophilia, chose to start her mycological adventures at SOMA Camp. But, one of the best parts is just being in one room with over 250 mycophiles of all experience levels that are completely psyched about learning more about fungi.  SOMA Camp is all about making connections!

Plus, SOMA Camp with it’s fabulous silent auction of donated items raises over $25K a year for mycology scholarships. What’s not to love! 

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