“Chanterelles like me, I don’t know why.”
She is wearing tall yellow rubber boots and a smile. Her rain-damp hair is full of life, all waves and charming angles. She slides open the patio door and beckons me out into the warm Napa rain. The world is blurred green, the rain feeding each distinct, verdant flavor of Life, but neatly obscuring the boundaries between them in a gossamer storm, blending each hue and making me cry for mercy. Her grin widens. The Friendly Ones are just up the hill.
Back in the living room, our fuss-n-feathers chef dons his slicker and steps outside, blinking up into the drizzle for a few seconds before coming to his senses, herding us uphill towards the chanterelles.
We cross the paddock and climb Connie’s mushroom hill. Live oaks truly live up to their names in some places— here they grow wide and thick, gnarled arms casting a perfectly interrupted shade on us, waxy-spiny leaves sheltering our slippery ascent.
When I was growing up in Texas, live oaks were skinny little affairs— like flapper waifs tripped on grain alcohol and coke, sparse haircut on top and all. Truth was, those Quercus virginianas, those lil’ live oaks, were short on ground water and soil. They grew lithe, starved— Texas oaks grow in limestone piled high with juniper waste, with recalcitrant aquifers and unpredictable rainfall.
We crest the hill, our breath heavy. At our feet is a blossom of gold, a patch of lovely golden chanterelles. They spiral out of the army-grey duff wearing tangy orange taffeta, rippled and riffled like a southern debutante’s dress. Ahead, over all our heads, dominating the horizon, is an ancient live oak, holding the sky aloft with some effort.
Connie is kneeling.
“I used to think they grew in association with this tree.” She looks up, into a sky so lightly held aloft.
“But the poor thing died.” My gaze follows Connie’s, my lady Bombadil in her tall yellow boots. I notice that the tree is greyed out, stout branches covered in brown, undershrunk leaves.
It weighs too much, but the rain feels pretty fine…this hill is a good place to die.
Don’t blame you the notion, I reply silently.
The weight of communion is broken by the chef.
“What are the name of these anyway?” His eyes gleam like a frying pan. His presence breaks the melancholy, even the Quercus shudders a chuckle off her dying canopy, plopping fat drops of rain all over us and the mushrooms.
Connie looks between her knees at a pair of perfect chanterelles, and enjoys a genuine snicker.
“The current name is Cantherellus californicus. A phylogeneticist from Berkeley came out here to take the species type a few years ago— the chanterelles that grow around here are C. californicus. Maybe they grow in association with the poison oak.
Her sad smile and yellow boots tell the whole story. The poor thing died whilst holding up the sky, but the mushrooms persist. This hill is a sacred place.
“All I know is, chanterelles like me.”