Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hunting season

We're deep into fall now and here in the Pacific Northwest, that means mushrooms. Strangely, the hunting bug didn't really hit me until just last year when it was revealed to me that the coveted chanterelle, the golden queen of all things 'shroom, actually grows right here on our little rock...if you know where to look.

As Michael Pollan hilariously details in the final section of his Omnivore's Dilemma, the elusive chanterelle is a master of hiding, and those that
hunt it are equally masterful at keeping its dark secrets hidden. Up against deadline for his book, he begged seasoned foragers in vain to take him - even blindfolded - on a mushroom hunt, any mushroom hunt.

As fun as foraging for the ultimate seasonal treat can be, however, more generalized hunting for interesting fungi can be great adventure as well. Armed with our trusty guide, gloves - very important because many varieties are highly toxic - and a bag for carrying any discovered golden loot, we set off into trails spongy with
decaying leaves and wet from recent rains.

Few things are more fun to do with your kid. Mushroom hunting gets you out into nature, provides the thrill of a treasure hunt, and turns out to be educational for everyone in the bargain. Sleuthing for mushrooms in the recesses of a damp woods, earthy and primal, in mist or dappled sun or even pouring rain when the scents seem almost overpowering - it's the original northwest playground.

Hunt for chanterelles and other fungi in wooded areas with lots of native vegetation and some, but not much, natural light. Away from the beaten trail and just after a rain are your best bets. Bring along a good guide with lots of photographs and detailed descriptions. Don't eat anything you cannot absolutely, positively identify - this is another reason chanterelles are uniquely exciting to find. They are not only delicious, but extremely distinctive, making them a safe choice for sauteing once you get home.

If you find a chanterelle hideout, check it every autumn, and don't tell anyone. Except maybe me.

Happy hunting.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Settling in

It's no secret that autumn is my favorite season. While long languid days of summer feel luxurious, and spring's eternal birth miracles always inspire, and winter's comforting rituals connect us to our past, it's autumn's color, clarity, moisture, and, yes, even entombing darkness that seems to remind us to turn inward, toward our loved ones and self-reflection, to appreciate hearth and home, and even to elevate the importance of sustenance in our lives.

This fall on our island has been virtually unprecedented in its beauty and classic autumn weather. Crisp days and chilly nights feel like precious gifts before the mists of November roll across our mornings.

The crockpot is hoisted out of the pantry more often. Tealights illuminate our family together space in the evenings. The light has gone on in the chicken coop to coax the hens to continue their egg-laying ways. Soon, mud will dominate our little landscape.

These weeks between late summer and early winter always feel a little like a breath held. This fall, I try to enjoy the leaves, turn my face toward the last rays of sun, embrace the change I know is coming, and get ready for the tasks of family, farm, livelihood, and life that this particular season brings.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ready for the rain

Well, we did it - I had my doubts (fueled by 3 previous years), but we managed to do the things we knew needed doing - before the rain set in and made us find that spot in our heart where regret lives and remorse gnaws on our best intentions. We battened down the hatches that needed it, albeit moments before the first drops started splattering the dust.

Every year we get a little more done before the farm becomes a sea of mud, and this year, we're actually truly, really ready. Sheared the sheep (Mark), built a shed for hay and bikes (also Mark) - and actually got it painted (both of us). Hooves are trimmed and tarps grace all that needs tarping. Now it's time to get working on the spartan....