Roots and Branches: Caution, ‘shroomers, caution

I have made several trips into the hills to hunt mushrooms this fall, resulting in a freezer full of delectable morsels. The weather has been great for the production of a prolific crop of fungi, with some of the largest specimens I have seen in years.

As I mentioned previously, just getting out into the woods is such a rewarding adventure. It reinvigorates your appreciation for nature, fills your spirit with some amazing vistas and is a healthy family activity that can be enjoyed by multiple generations.

In the Japanese community, it is a time-honored tradition to pack a bento box full of tasty rice balls and head out for secret family gardens, the location of which is passed down from generation to generation. Searching for matsutake, the fragrant pine mushroom coveted for use in many Japanese dishes, is an event rather than a pastime.

Enough said about family forays in the forest. I have been warned by some not to wax on about the virtues of hunting mushrooms in the beautiful foothills of the mountains bookending our valleys for fear of driving hoards of neophyte gatherers into the woods. Some are fearful that an influx of new mushroom hunters will further diminish the crop, which has already been decimated by the harvest of timber and more recently, the destructive practice of raking the forest floor by commercial mushroom harvesters. That combination might reduce a bountiful crop to slim pickings.

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So I have been asked to share some of the inherent dangers that await you if you should decide to venture into the dark and sinister woods where the wild mushrooms grow. Be wary of the woods, for they are very likely inhabited by a gaggle of gnomes high on psychedelic mushrooms, who scamper about below the underbrush causing you to fall helplessly to the ground. I know this to be true because I have seen documentaries of this forest inhabitant on late-night television shows.

It is possible to meet your demise beneath the jaws of a vampire wolf that will incapacitate you with his fangs, leaving your flesh to be stripped from your carcass by hordes of soldier ants.

Or you might find yourself strung up in a tall fir tree by a Sasquatch hoarding his fresh food supply for the winter. Or you could be impaled by a renegade elk or worse yet, a rutting deer. Killer critters apparently abound in the forest, from crazed squirrels that attach themselves to your face and start gnawing away at your nose to grotesque vultures that circle overhead, waiting to peck your eyes out.

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Sure, there are some real “dangers” in the woods, but nothing that a little common sense won’t keep at bay. One shouldn’t throw rocks at large wasp nests, or presume they are a natural piñata just waiting to be smashed with a long stick. Those are not treasures inside that conical vessel, and you will get stung.

Leave the berries on the bush unless you are absolutely sure they are edible. Foraging around the forest grazing on plants, fungi and berries is just plain foolish. Yes, these are all natural, organic plants growing out in the woods, but that doesn’t make them healthy.

The mushrooms themselves can be deadly, and sometimes picking up some of the most poisonous varieties can leave traces on your fingers that can spread to good mushrooms in your bag. While the worst I can attest to is a bad case of the runs from over-indulging on some edible varieties, there are reports each year of deaths from ingesting the wrong type of mushroom.

Getting lost, whether hiking or biking on the myriad of trails and logging roads that crisscross the forest, is a distinct possibility. This is a frequent problem in our beautiful forests and causes injuries, hypothermia and death with some unfortunate hikers. Not having a good map, GPS or compass in your pocket is truly foolish.

You should also wear protective clothing and carry a cellphone, flashlight, water and food, and something with which to start a fire.

Be aware that fall mushroom season coincides with the hunting season of many varieties of animals, making walking in the woods a stroll through a neighborhood where many folks are armed and in search of prey. Fortunately we have very few hunter-related shootings of the human nature.

Be aware that traveling up the winding roads is an adventure in itself. You may encounter a logging truck rolling down the curves at a rapid pace. Over the last few years there are more and more bicyclists racing around the curves, along with four-wheel enthusiasts, dirt bikers and motorcyclists. Add a skittish horse to the mix and you could just get kicked off the path.

One should be wary of marijuana grows hidden in the forests, for they may be protected by armed guards or booby traps. Add to these dangerous elements, the piles of deadly chemicals used to grow this drug, and you have some real potential for danger. If you come across anything that looks suspicious, get out quickly and report it to law enforcement.

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So if that isn’t enough warning to keep you out of the woods, let me add: If you are searching for the Yasui matsutake gardens beware of the two-headed forest mammoth that stands guard over our buried treasure. He works with the gaggle of forest gnomes and flying vultures to make sure that no unauthorized person enters the area.

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