It is August, the month of foraging, and almost every day I am gathering or processing fruit—or this year, for the first time, mushrooms. Last Tuesday I cycled the six or eight miles to the lowest pull-out in one of the canyons south of town, where the Hyalite stream slows and broadens by a little stony beach. There I met a friend and her two young children, with whom I picked a few service berries (Saskatoon, June berries) before abandoning them all to go upstream into swifter, deeper waters, looking for black currants.
I hit the jackpot. They were profuse and ripe, hanging in long drupes under their large, grape-like leaves; I could simply pull down, stripping the berries cleanly from their stems, gathering enough for jam in minutes. There are also gooseberries, with much smaller leaves and prickly stems, but I'll take the thorn-free currants any day.
When we'd had enough of the stream, we drove a few miles north and headed out along an old double-track trail and across an open meadow through which wandered a stream so narrow that we could, all of us, step across it. On the other side of the meadow we re-entered the woods on a little-used path, and began the search in earnest. This was only my second time hunting chanterelles, and I'd taken a different path out of the meadow than before (not entirely on purpose), so I was relieved to find enough to delight the children.
The chanterelles show dark gold in the moss or needles underfoot, and I do mean underfoot, for they have a curious predilection for paths. My friend Sarah, who'd introduced me to hunting chanterelles the previous week (and who'd introduced me to mushrooming via the fairy ring in my own yard several weeks earlier) had wondered whether this might be because these narrow paths, not official trails, also serve wildlife, which fertilize them. I speculated that perhaps chanterelles like paths because they're somewhat open; certainly the mushrooms tend to grow in glades.
While sometimes one finds an isolated specimen, usually chanterelles grow in tight clumps, and now and then they fairly sprinkle the forest floor. We managed to find such a place, and the kids sprang from clump to clump, crying, “Here's another one!” They were nearly as excited as Sarah, who had let out a whoop whenever she stumbled on a new batch. The children would present me with each new find; I'd cut off the dirty end, then they'd run to drop the mushroom in their mother's collection bag.
I'd been a bit leery of bringing a three and a five-year-old mushrooming—what if they couldn't walk far enough? What if they walked all over the precious harvest? Not to worry, at least not with these two.
However, I nearly lost the whole family on the way home: it was getting on towards evening, but there were many mushrooms yet to pick, so as they traveled more slowly than me, they started back first. I did have a moment's hesitation over this plan—would they find their way back to the meadow and through it to the old double track?—but my friend seemed unconcerned—the plan was hers—so I let them go and foraged ahead.
When I (finally) did turn back and make my way to the meadow, I found the little family re-entering it from another, unlikely, angle. “We never crossed the stream!” Cam announced, and Kalin chimed in: “We had to cross the stream and so we came back to look for it!”
“Good thinking,” I said, a good deal more calmly than I felt. “And here it is.” We stepped, leaped, or bounded across it, the late afternoon sun throwing our shadows before us. Michael appeared relaxed and the children cheerful, but I couldn't help thinking about what might have happened if they'd kept trekking north, instead of east towards the car. “It's not the first time I've gotten us lost,” she remarked.
“You did two important things right,” I said to the kids. “You noticed that you hadn't crossed the stream, and you didn't panic.”
“Yeah!” they agreed enthusiastically, but as they bounded ahead, Michael said to me wryly, “Actually, I did panic a little.”
“I'm not surprised.”
We were all glad we'd converged on the meadow and could make our way back to the clear, uncompromising, straightforward double-track together.
That evening, I made mushroom soup, and the next day I made my first currant jam in years. Yum.