Saturday, November 13, 2010

Are Werewolves Imaginary?

The to do list is done:
When we returned home I wanted to sit down with some fake coffee and Child-play-by-himself time but Wren stuck to me like glue, talking constantly about playing a game with him now, fighting etc etc.   I suggested he play at the table and tried to check my email but he followed and tried to set up a D&D army beneath my feet, I suggested he not sit right next to me.  He retorted:

Wren:  But I have to.  I am scared of Werewolves jumping out.

Me:  But you know Werewolves are imaginary, right?

Wren:  Werewolves are imaginary but [he pauses, for drama] they have scary faces.

Me:  No, you know what I mean?  They are not in this world.  They are things you think about but they are no real Werewolves.

Wren:  They are not real but they are imaginary!

I pondered that one for a bit.  I don't think real and imaginary are a dichotomy for Wren.  Perhaps imaginary is a sub-category of real, you know, there are REAL things which may be imaginary, manifest, visible, invisible, in this world [Seattle] or Granny's World [Adelaide] or Grandad's World [South Africa] or Warhammer World [on the internet or in a book.]

I tried another approach.

Me:  Just as long as you know that there are none in our house.

Wren:  BUT  WELL,  MUUUUM  [long pause as he looks at me with exasperation]... They are imaginary but when one hits our glass window it will break at the top and go into slow motion and break through ggghhhaaaa...!

 He returns to working on his setup, happy to be underfoot.

Comment Moderation

Comment Moderation settings have now changed.   You no longer need a Google membership or OpenID to leave comments.  Sorry about that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans' Day

It was Veterans' Day today and a school holiday so Frost enjoyed a long playdate with Isaac while Wren and I visited a Memorial to the Fallen.


It wasn't really the Plan, but Wren wanted to see the cannons at Cannon Park so we stopped off in the cold and smattering rain to visit them.  He was very impressed with them and tried to "fire them off" like Drummer Hoff in a favorite book.

Trying to turn the cannon

We had to look in the barrel to see what had been
stuffed there.

"I love cannons"
Afterwards, Wren noticed the memorial and wanted me to read the words on the side.  They read:


My knowledge of history is slight but I was sure it was a memorial.

Wren was sure it was a TOMB and there was a DEAD SOLDIER in it.  He found this sobering and wanted to climb up it to make sure.  Fortunately the sides were smooth and sheer and so his ascent for  knowledge was hampered.

Wren attempts to climb the memorial in which
"there is a dead soldier."

Later, we went to the zoo and stopped at some woodland for a quick mushroom poke.  In the duff nearby I found a large flush of lepista nuda (Blewitts) which had been disturbed and partly driven over by a leaf blower and tractor.  I saved them and ate half for dinner and did not feel badly about harvesting them.  I also found a chanterelle-like mushroom with different "true" gills and different features.  I think it was a lepista inversa so it was the day of the lepista (or clitocybe or Tricholoma depending on which is the trulio correct term).

Delicious Blewitts - supposed to be called
Clitocybe Nuda

Thursday, November 11, 2010

M is for Mushroom

 Last night I dreamt about mushrooms.  It wasn't a narrative dream but I recall observing the curve of an umbonate cap and the buff mauve-brown of the Blewitts I collected yesterday.   Dreaming about mushrooms is probably inevitable, at least until the frosts.  I collect them, ID them, sketch them and read about them.  I drag Wren out in the rain in the hopes of finding an interesting bolete.  I am getting more fresh air than ever because of the joy of the hunt.

I have been thinking that this obsession is going to limit my friendships every fall unless I drag a few more of you into my way of thinking so here is my little list of Why I Love Mushroom Hunting and Why You Should Too.

1.  Own Your Urge to Forage.
 Those of us who have it know it: that itch, that urge, that compelling drive to go out and look at Value Village one more time, or walk the tidal line for a seaswept shell, or find a penny with a metal detector.  There are treasures out there in the woods, especially if you like to eat mushrooms and the joy of mushroom hunting is the splendid disguise that mushrooms have, their cleverness that means you could walk right by them and then find them on the way home. 

You know all the hoopla about Geocaching?  Well, mushroom foraging is like geocaching without technology, following the clues in the seasons, the hills, the sunny side of a valley, the rainshadow?  If you read the clues and keep close to the ground you will find them, eventually, with luck.

2.  They Taste Good
If you don't like mushrooms, I won't convince you.  But many wild mushrooms are far tastier than the store buttons and I like tasty things.  Enough said.  I am not going to go all foodie on you now.

2b.  And They Are Cheap(er) if You Find Them
If you've tried to buy chanterelles or matsutake or porcini (fresh or dried) you know that they are almost always pretty expensive.  Most of us aren't going to buy a $30 a lb matsutake to grill on the BBQ.  So, learn to hunt mushrooms and you can try one. 

2c.  And its Eating Local.
Which is pretty important and trendy these days.

3. Mushrooms are Sexy
The scientific names of mushrooms are very interesting sometimes to the point of being R-rated.  As you know,  all Seattle culture finds its way to the coffee shop at some point.  This morning, I was in a coffee shop with Wren (3) and the woman in the couch next to us looked up sharply when I asked him whether he could see the mushrooms volva.  She gave me a piercing glance and returned a rigid gaze her book as if to prove she was not listening so I said it again "You see, amanitas have a nice big volva".

Then there are the clitocybes - including the aforementioned Blewitt (or clitocybe nuda).  I mean, how often can you use big words like that with a preschooler?

2. They Inspire Creativity
Mushrooms are beautiful to draw and photograph and if you are a stitch and bitch type, they dye textiles rich organic shades.  If you prefer the fiber arts you can always make little felt mushrooms and sell them to Waldorf families via Etsy.  Could it be that Steiner's Europeon roots made him a big fan of the little mushroom?  

Wren has become my best student as shown by this very realistic drawing of an amanita which he did after we had looked at the Easy Key to Common Gilled Mushrooms.  He calls it his Mushroom Drawing.

Amanita Muscaria aka "Mushroom"

My illustrations tend towards the botanical and my main purpose is to practice looking intently and record the mushrooms I collect and identify (and sometimes eat) over the season.  I started off doing very quick and dirty sketches to record the main features but have now started doing some water-colouring of the sketches which will be satisfying when I have a bit more practice.   I hope to do some more finished illustrations to put on the wall.

Warnings and Disclaimers

If you are careless you can die.
This is said too much in the US but its true, there are poisonous mushrooms out there and, particularly in countries where millions of people forage for mushrooms, people die from eating them by mistake.

Lethal ones are in the vast minority but I know that won't make you feel much better if you haven't a clue what a safe and tasty one looks like.   For me, I figure its like someone said to you before an international trip:  "There are problems with violence in [insert description of foreign place]."   If you are the type of person who, on the basis of this information, decides never to leave US shores, you should probably not collect and eat wild mushrooms.  However, if you could keep alert and change plans to avoid said location, you should be fine.  Join a mushroom club, gather with experts, use a few guides and don't eat it because it might be alright.  Be sure.

Succeeding at Foraging Leads You into Food Preservation Issues
If you succeed in finding mushrooms, be prepared to get into dessication, bagging cups of sauteed mushrooms for freezing and perhaps pickling and bottling.  This is not always the same skill set as the avid mushroom hunter, so if you feel that this is not your scene you can bring your mushrooms to me and I will help you eat them.

Actually, this whole "I will help you eat them..." thing is a bit of a dark joke in mycology circles because it goes to the heart of mushroom hunting ---> most people want most delicious mushrooms for their pot or they want to be the ones who can exhibit largesse and share them.  Both are rather selfish pleasures and if you've crawled around in the woods all day with a scant haul in edibles you don't feel that there is enough to go around... so:

Mushroomers Are Possessive and Sneaky
In the first few years of mushroom learning my feelings were hurt a few times when I asked someone "Where did you find that?" and they sniggered and made some joke or gave a location about as specific as "on earth somewhere."

It is not a joke.

People do not share their mushroom spots because (property rights aside) its like having a perennial vegetable garden growing in the woods.   If you find a mushroom somewhere, its worth checking again in a few weeks to see if more have grown.  Its definitely worth checking it next season.  This is particularly the case with the most prized edibles like some boletes and chanterelles which return with their bounty each fall.  Still, I think that mushroom foragers should make this more clear to novices otherwise it sounds mean.  Face it.  You are being mean.  Lets role play this:

Jane emerges into the campground from the forest with a collecting basket full of boletus edulis.  I am a novice who is on her first foray.

Me:  Wow!  What are those?  Can you eat them?
Jane [rotating around to make me forget the direction from which she came].   They're boletus edulis.  They're delicious.
Me:  Where did you find them?
Jane:  In the area... [she laughs and bobs her head in a vague way]
Me:  Oh?
Jane covers them up and quickly puts them away into her car.  One specimen is seen on the ID table at the end of the day.

I would much prefer this:

Jane:  Its a SECRET.  Its MY PRESSSHISSS SECRET.  I own this mycelium because I FOUND IT and it took me many years and my SECRET relationship with boletes to know where it was and even then I have to travel out here a few times every fall to check on it so DON'T LOOK AT ME or my boletes.  Don't TOUCH them.  Don't look at them possessively or I will have to shoot you with antifungals FROM MY EYES.

You know, that way we know how we stand and can develop a suitable sneakiness ourselves.  Instead, the novice shares all his wisdom.  At the last PSMS meeting a new member came in with a huge box of boletus edulis and said where he had found them, exactly.  Jaws were dropping, but they should not have been.

Generosity is really a lot more fun in a community so we have to practice to guard our tongues, speak in generalities and walk North to travel East.

Lets get together and hunt mushrooms next year!

Barrier Crows

We dropped in at Whole Foods on the way home from preschool.  Having spent the morning updating our finances on Quicken, I took the prudent course and left my purse in the car while we dashed in to get some coin sleeves and exchange the soy whip which wouldn't squirt (apparently Whole Foods received a defective batch which had coagulated so my fervent attempts to squirt it over the pumpkin pie were doomed to failure.)  Wren was running barefoot (because he was hot) and with a bank-teller lollipop in his mouth.

He took it out the lollipop from time to time to taste "free food!" like grapes and later some goji berries.  Tasting the sweet red berries he exclaimed:

"Oh my GOD, those are awesome.  Like raisins!"

This amused other shoppers but must have made them consider eating raisins, since they are much cheaper.

As the ragamuffin rushed out of the store, veering round the Real Change desperados, he saw a crow and stopped.  

"Its OK, you can chase the crow," I called out.

Wren rushed at the crow which flapped and hopped a short distance and then looked at him.  He paused, then rushed back to me with a shriek.

"Was that a crow?" he asked.

I said it was a crow.

"No,"  he said, climbing into the car and grabbing Soft Shirt for reassurance,  "that was not a crow.  That was a barrier crow.  That is a special kind of crow.  It has sharp feathers by its beak and by its eye."

"Uh huh?" I said, buckling him in.

We drove for a block in silence.

"Barrier crows eat fruit and vegetables," Wren continued, as if without interruption to the conversation then added with an lowered tone, "they also eat meat."

"Is this real, or imaginary?" I wondered aloud

"This is real, in our world.  Not right here but in our world.  In Granny's world."

"Oh, ok.  Cos they sound a bit scary."

We drove past the vegetable stand on the corner of 65th and 15th.

"See, that shop sells fruit.  If they saw that the barrier crows just walk in and take the food."

We continued along 65th.  Bump, over a plate left in the road from construction.

"They also dig holes.  They dig holes and climb trees and this is a bit imaginary.  They cut down plants with their claws and beaks!  They cut the plants off like this.

I don't like barrier crows."

We saw a flock of crows (you can't really write murder without sounding overly melodramatic) rising out of the conifers near our house.  Frankly, if Barrier Crows occurred in those numbers I don't think we'd stand a chance.

I told Wren I don't like the sound of them either. 

Wren says "A man is coming to whack those Barrier Crows who are
eating all her food."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Theories of Almost-4

"I am very clever," Wren told me this morning, gesturing towards a multi-story office building.  "I can't see inside that building but I KNOW that people are talking."

"What about that building?" I wondered, pointing to a shop on Stone Way.

"Oh, in that one they are cleaning up."

This afternoon, I took Wren to the fish and chip shop at Fishermen's Terminal.   I've been thinking about Mum's order to feed him more and rich fatty fried salmon seemed like a good idea for a cold rainy day.  While I ate too many fries he ate his way through the salmon.  He pretended to be an eagle and pounce down on the fish in his talons.  We joked about the way the eagle also pounced on the fries and pretended they were small fish called fry.  Once Wren mis-spoke and called the fish "Itch."  Instead of correcting himself he said:

"There really is a food called itch.  Its a real Chinese food.  Do you know what itch has in it?  It has soy sauce, vinegar, meat and cheese.  It is called Itch."

On the way home he became creative.

"Wouldn't it be cool if there were mechanical steps to get up into a bulldozer.  Mechanical steps for kids to get up?  And you pull a button to make it go up and you push the big button to make it go.  That machine, it costs ninety hundred dollars!"

Wren in Discovery Park.
Note all the scattered mushrooms under the conifers in the background.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tiger Mushroom

It wasn't actually raining today and Judy was in town so I had a companion for a forest walk.  We decided to try out Wren's new back carrier and walk Tiger Mountain and look out for mushrooms to identify.

After getting vaguely lost on every prior hike on Tiger Mountain, I was well equipped with my New Green Trails Map of Tiger Mountain.  It was really peculiar knowing where I was and was lucky that we were able to measure distances I would otherwise have despaired of and turned back thinking I had taken a wrong turn.  Judy was a reassuring navigator, finding landmarks like streams and gulches to mark our progress. 
We had a break at the intersection of Tiger 3 and Talus Loop
 Over the weekend I bought a Sherpani hiking carrier for kids off Craigslist.  It is extremely light and comfortable but nothing can really make up for the discomfit of carrying a 35lb kid (plus a few lbs of snack, water, baskets, raincoats and emergency supplies like a compass, whistle and signal mirror in case we were lost overnight out there in the urban wilderness).

Overall, the backpack was a great success in that we did a bit of a  longer walk than would otherwise be possible with Wren.  I think we covered 3 miles - 1 mile up, one a traverse with some switchbacks and then a pretty sharp descent.  I carried Wren a large part of the ascent, about half of the traverse and only a little bit of the descent.   I got a good workout but my shoulders are a bit sore in a way that suggests I could adjust it better.

Wren walks slowly with an ongoing narrative.
 Wren is not an easy hiker.  He does not get the whole directionality thing.  Even while looking for mushrooms I have a sense of motion, especially when it gets past 12.45 and I haven't had lunch.  As he walked Judy encouraged Wren to count his steps, to follow me or to aim at something ahead.  Nothing really caught on until we were moving down.  He liked moving down.

One of his little games going along was scraping a patch of moss off each tree as he past.  He called this "shaving the tree".  Each tree got a little shave, the moss being dropped in the ferns.  If you look at the pictures you will see that this forest had many trees along the path so it took a long long time proceeding in this fashion.  Finally, Judy told Wren "This is the last tree that gets a shave because people coming along later will be worried that an animal has been hurting the trees."

This puzzling explanation seemed to satisfy Wren who then wanted to be carried.

No sooner was he up than he wanted to be down.  He complained I was jiggling him by walking or that he wanted to walk himself so he could have a stick like Judy.  Judy was quite the standard of excellence in Wren's mind.  At various points along the trail while I was carrying him, Wren would say reassuringly in my ear:

"I love you Mummy."
"I love you too, Wren" I'd reply.
"I love Judy too." he would add.

He would also enjoy looking for mushrooms from up high. 

"MUSHROOM" he would shriek, nearly deafening me and causing me to wobble as he lurched around to indicate the small brown something in the fallen leaves.  He really has a good eye for them but even carrying a 35lb kid seems easy in comparison to crouching down to retrieve a small mushroom while carrying a 35lb kid.

I think I did ok.

Here are some mushrooms I am planning to draw this evening.  They are like nothing I have seen outside the US and I find their folded caps quite intriguing.

A selection of gyromitas and helvella which were well
distributed on the Western part of the trail.
 We explored the Talus Rocks before taking the Nook Trail back down to the base.  Wren was very interested in the rocks as now says this was his favorite part of the walk.  We took a little loop through the rocks and looked down into a cave where I have been told there are bats.  Also found a tiny hedgehog mushroom over the crevasse.
Exploring Talus Rocks.  Wren was concerned that we would SEE the bats
rumored to live in the cave.

Wren in the Sherpani.  Why did I wait until my kid weighed 35lbs
to try this?

Bright orange saporific fungi I hope to identify later
(when Frost goes to bed and I can use the Matchmaker online key_
I shall post an update with a list of some of the mushrooms we saw today.  There were not many common edibles but many of beauty and interest.  After we returned to the trailhead we drove home to Vios at Third Place and had a rather large lunch with their current seasonal beet soup.  Oh my god, it was delicious.  Wren ordered one and then refused to eat it so he ate my beet salad and I had the soup.  Mrmrm.  I am going to make some at home this week.

Making spore prints for identification