Skip to content

Mushrooming on Shrine Pass

August 12, 2017

August 11, 2017 – first mushroom harvest. Shrine Pass (near Vail), Colorado

It is a little (a week or so) early to look for mushrooms in the Colorado mountains but given the recent cooler weather and a series of rains providing needed moisture, we (Nancy and me) figured we’d give it a try. But with global warming and drought filled years here in the Southwest, there have been slim pickings. I have gone up every year, but these past three or four years have come back empty-handed or almost. Still every summer about this time we are driven up to the high mountains by some force larger than ourselves to hunt for mushrooms. Friends often ask stupid questions or make like-minded comments – “Did you find any psychedelics?” No, frankly we wouldn’t even recognize them. As we did thirty years ago, when Jukka and Paivi Kairkkainen first took us on our first mushroom hunt a bit north of Helsinki (Finland), we continue with the tradition of searching for edibles.

To my way of thinking there are different kinds of mush-roomers. There are the obsessive compulsive types that want to know every scientific variety and impress people with their vast technical knowledge. They tend to join the Colorado Mycological Society (we are occasional members) and go around trying to impress people with the vast knowledge. They bore me stiff. There are also commercial hunters who are out there to find “choice mushrooms” to sell to overpriced restaurants in Vail, Aspen and along the front range. They can be a bit aggressive in their approach and fit into another category, the “mushroom greedy.” Of course it is not just the commercial mush-roomers who are mushroom greedy. I’ve seen people – on Shrine Pass even – who will literally race to outdo me to pick a nice one.

We met a couple of German women a few years back who worked at some restaurant in Vail. They were really mushroom greedy. We met them mushrooming at around the same area where we were. We showed them some edible varieties and from that point for a good half hour the two of them stalked me (for my mushroom knowledge not for my sexual attractiveness) until I finally said, “just come along – we’ll do this together.” I’d point to an edible one – almost panting, they would literally race to the spot to gather the mushrooms anxious that I might harvest the plant before they did. And they would leave nothing for others. They had to take every little mushroom I could lead them to. No sharing either. No finders fee for me, not that I cared by the way.

After a while I left the panting Germans and went my own way. They left such a nasty taste in my mouth. It was only then that I came to realize one of my prejudices: I don’t like mushroom-greedy people. 

We met a couple of German women a few years back who worked at some restaurant in Vail. They were really mushroom greedy. We met them mushrooming at around the same area where we were. We showed them some edible varieties and from that point for a good half hour the two of them stalked me (for my mushroom knowledge not for my sexual attractiveness) until I finally said, “just come along – we’ll do this together.” I’d point to an edible one – almost panting, they would literally race to the spot to gather the mushrooms anxious that I might harvest the plant before they did. And they would leave nothing for others. They had to take every little mushroom I could lead them to. No sharing either. No finders fee for me, not that I cared by the way.

After a while I left the panting Germans and went my own way. They left such a nasty taste in my mouth. It was only then that I came to realize one of my prejudices: I don’t like mushroom-greedy people. 

Valkovuokko

But watching them reminded me of a friend with whom we used to go hiking back in Finland. In the mid spring (late May, early June) a concert of spring flowers begins in the Finnish forests, first white (Valkovuokko), then blue-purple (Sinivuokko). Valkovuokko announce that the darkness is over, that the light and warmer weather are around the corner. Out of control, my friend would race to collect them all, more or less in the same greedy spirit the two German women rushed to pick mushrooms on Vail pass, not leaving anything for others, or more importantly for nature itself. He wasn’t mushroom greedy; he was flower greedy.

As with greedy mush-roomers, I don’t like flower greedy people either. But in the end, what is it that makes people, not just appreciate – but lust after mushrooms (of all things!) and flowers? To be greedy about a fucking mushroom? How sick can you get? It is a need to possess, control and privatize nature, to “own nature” in the same way as one owns a piece of property, isn’t it? It springs from that same lust to “own” a fine work of art, to add it to one’s collection, rather than sharing it with the world, in a museum, in an archeological site open to public view. And it is on some bizarre, psychic level, yet another form of narcissism.  Perhaps you think I am exaggerating but I’ve come to believe that the way people relate to natural beauty – is it to be shared or privatized – tells much on how they relate to people, to society and to the earth itself.

Back to mushrooming.

Colorado wild flower – Shrine Pass

Nancy and I are of a more casual variety of mush-roomers. We know what we are looking for but are far from experts. Nor are we interested in becoming experts. A lot of our interest, certainly, comes from the way that mushrooming, like no other activity, returns us to the near five years we lived in Finland in the late 1980s, years that were for the whole family among the most precious we have spent on this planet. The job I had there was rather surrealistic …but Finland…and the Finns themselves, both special.  Even during good rainfall years, the Colorado mountains don’t receive the kind of moisture that the Finnish forests enjoy, but there is enough so that mushrooms abound. Add to this the fact that the Finnish mushroom season is much longer than in the Colorado Rockies. And the fact that mushroom spores travel the world means that many of the varieties we found on our many mushroom journeys north of Helsinki, reappear in the Colorado Rockies. Besides reminding us of our Finnish years – there is no way when we are up there in the mountains that we don’t begin to talk about Finland even thirty years on – we just love being in the mountains tromping around. There is a genuine excitement about finding a good one. Then there is the taste. They are simply delicious although after harvesting, they need to be immediately processed (cleaned, cooked, preserved – many ways of doing so).

There are certain rules that must be followed. Poisonous mushrooms can result in nothing short of an exquisitely

Shrine Pass. Rob finds a Steinpilz 
(Steinpilz sieni in Finnish)

painful death. One must be careful. In the eighties and early nineties I used to carry two bags…one for the edibles, the other, as I used to say “for Ronald Reagan.” Rule no. 1,2,3 – only collect what you know to be edible. Collecting unfamiliar varieties can be dangerous to one’s health. In Finland, unlike here in the US of A, every small town has some place where mushrooms can be identified. In Denver this can be done at the Denver Botanical Gardens. We’d done so on several occasions.

Unfamiliar collected varieties should be physically separated (ie, placed in separate paper bags) from the known ones. All in all, Nancy and I know a paltry 20 or so varieties and we carefully stick to collecting them. There is one group called “boletes” and are distinguished from their spongy-like undersides (rather than gill-like). Easily identifiable and plentiful in some forms we can usually find some varieties in the Colorado mountains. Occasionally – like yesterday – we find choice bolete varieties – called “Steinpilz” mushrooms, four of which we collected near the summit of Shrine Pass.

There are other varieties we know, the names of which, I won’t bore readers with. That said, besides being casual mush-roomers, we are also what I would call “oddball” mush-roomers in a certain fashion. Neither of us hardly know the English or Latin names for mushrooms and when we come across other mush-roomers we hardly know what they are talking about because we still employ the Finnish common names that Jukka and Paivi taught us. For example, for years I had no idea what people meant when they spoke of “boteles.” To us they were and will always remain “tatti,” chanterelles “kanttarelli”, black trumpet mushrooms “musta torivisieni.”

Our Shrine Pass visit yesterday, as the photo at the beginning of this entry suggests, was moderately successful.

I’ve collected far more from this particular area – shopping bag after shopping bag full. This time we came away with only one medium-sized bag. But the quality made up for the modest quantity. First, at 9500 feet, near the top of the pass, we gathered four full-grown Steinpilz species in excellent condition, further down, around 7500 feet elevation, there were a fair number of fleshy sheep polypores plus one or two varieties of golden boletes which are much smaller than the steinpilz’s and yellow-gold in coloring. Despite being late in the season, the wild flowers were breathtaking, especially above the summit (well the summit road) of Shrine Pass. A lot more people than in years past, camping, making a lot of noise in their atv’s, still, with all that, about as pretty a place as one could find…anywhere.

Steam whose waters flow into the Colorado River and eventually – that part of which is not diverted to Phoenix and L..A., into the Pacific Ocean.

 

 


 

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: