snooping around in the forest: a writer's guide to mushroom hunting
Now that WILD AWAKE is coming out soonish, I have started to get interview questions like “What is your advice for aspiring writers?”
At first I was saying things like “carry a notebook, blah blah blah” but today I went for a walk in the woods on Bainbridge Island and I realized that my best advice for aspiring writers is to take up mushroom hunting. Mushroom hunting involves scandal and adventure and near-death experiences and brushes with the law, and most aspiring writers don’t get enough of that. In case of financial strain, mushroom hunting can also double as a day job, which can come in handy for aspiring writers too.
If you are willing to take me seriously on this matter, I will let you in on a few keen pieces of mushroom hunting advice.
When you start out mushroom hunting, you may get frustrated by advice you read in books. “Look under cottonwood trees,” says the mushroom guide, and you think, “WTF is a cottonwood tree?” “Search north-facing slopes,” says the guide, and you think “How am I supposed to know which way is north?”
You can crash about in the woods without this knowledge and still find plenty of mushrooms. Chances are, you will end up knowing about cottonwood trees and north-facing slopes just by scrambling up them. If it happens that you have been crashing about for years and are still unable to identify a cottonwood, consult a book.
I once spent six hours searching the forest floor on my hands and knees to find a single morel on Shaw Island, WA. Conclusion: Sometimes it takes six hours of searching on your hands and knees to find your morel.
When mushroom hunting, you can occasionally find yourself staring so hard at a certain patch of ground that you completely lose track of your surroundings. With this in mind, it is advisable to “zoom out” every so often and take note of what’s going on in the forest at large.
Not only does this provide a pleasant break from staring at the ground, but it can even be useful: you might notice a patch of trees or a slant of sunlight that will point the way to further mushrooms, or explain the absence of mushrooms in the place you are currently searching.
Mushroom hunting means snooping around. A walking trail says “Stay on me—the rest of the forest is none of your business.” Mushroom hunters don’t believe that crap for a second. The fallen logs are your business and the puddles are your business and the weird slimy things are your business and the dark mossy stuff is your business. It is both your right and your duty to inspect, interrogate, poke, nudge, sniff, squeeze, and, when appropriate, whack things with sticks. You are the Inspector of Autumn and the Investigator of Springtime. Let nothing be forbidden from your inquiry.
If you are walking around and not seeing any mushrooms, try changing your angle. If you have been looking down, look up. If you have been looking on top of things, look under them. If you have been standing, crouch. If you have been crouching, climb a tree. You can walk through the same patch of forest fifteen different ways, and see a different kind of fungi each time. Certain mushrooms are invisible from certain angles.
This is possibly the most essential truth of mushroom hunting.
Some days yield no mushrooms whatsoever, and all you did was get your pants muddy.
This, too, is an essential truth of mushroom hunting.
Wishing you millions of morels and billions of boletes.