Yesterday I went on a walk sponsored by LandPaths, a non-profit which works with the county open space district to provide access to public lands and offer related environmental education. I'd looked forward to "mushroom madness" (as it was called) for weeks. Turns out it was not a good time for mushrooms. Our winter weather has been unusually cold and dry. Serious rain finally came, but only a few days ahead of our walk on Sonoma Mountain. Actually serious weather was happening as we walked. 4 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday was the wettest 24 hour period so far this season.
Still, we saw a lot and learned a good deal about the fungi in both redwood and oak dominated environments. Dr. Chris Kjeldsen – Professor Emeritus of Biology at Sonoma State University - led us, along with Autumn Summers, an ethnobotanist and herbalist on the LandPaths staff.
I don't have lots of hiking gear for wet weather (e.g., no rain pants), so I got pretty soaked, but my boots are water proof and I wore a wool sweater and socks, so I did not get cold. It was worth it though, beautiful in the rain, wonderful to see the leaves of spring flowers starting up, and the many shades of bright and promising green.
Reflecting on what we saw and what we learned caused me to contrast the way first peoples here got their food with the way we do. Even though this is a diverse and easy environment, anyone dependent on hunting and gathering must have had to be very flexible in what they ate. I can go to the farm stand and depend on them having cremini mushrooms any time I want them. While gatherers might track the best locations for mushrooms from year to year, varying weather can vary widely the times of their fruiting, and unrelenting rainy seasons (like the one we had last year) would mean no opportunity to dry mushrooms for later use.
I wonder if the ready and steady availability of produce has in some way deadened our appreciation? Would we savor more, and be more eager to thank God for our food if it weren't so predictable? We have vestiges of this dependency on weather. Certainly the irreplaceable home grown tomato varies greatly in quality and quantity around here. When we have a wet grey summer we complain about the loss to our salad bowls. But still, industrial food tends to flatten out our appreciation, and sometimes, I think, make us lust after the novelty that nature provides to those who do more gathering and small scale growing, and less shopping.