Mushroom hunting sometimes requires diversion. Naturally, there are several semantic incarnations “diversion”, and I’ve learned that most permutations of the word apply in one way or another to mushrooming.
Of course, mushroom hunting is a diverting enterprise— what’s better than knocking off for a few nights of camping, fires, mushrooms, and good wine/food/stories? But that’s not the sort of diversion I’m going to focus on; my intent is more cautionary than laudatory.
Sometimes, it’s critical to create a diversion in order to hide the fact that you’re mushroom hunting. In some places, I don’t bother to conceal what I’m doing, because mushrooming is socially acceptable and common enough that folks are going to pin you for a mycophile no matter what you do, and are unlikely to make a fuss. For instance, one time I was poaching (as in, picking mushrooms without a license, a very common but none-too-advisable practice) near Arcata. I was trying to stay clear of paths and people, but spotted a cluster of queen boletes next to a one lane road that wound through the park. I simply could not resist, and grabbed them just as a trio of middle aged folks strolled by. I was not carrying a basket, having opted for a paper bag in order to buffer my odds of avoiding a bust. I don’t even think they saw me snagging the mushrooms. However, when I nodded to them in silent, somewhat shamefaced greeting, one of the fellows sang out at me:
“You find any good mushrooms?”
“Uh yeah, some nice queens,” I stammered.
“Awesome!” chimed in one of the walkers, a lady with greying hair and a turquoise bracelet. “Did you go to the Humboldt Fungus Fair a few weeks ago? It was a blast!”
“No, I’m just passing through. I did attend the fungus fair in Eugene this year, it was exceptionally cool.”
I knew these people were going to spare me.
However, the simple fact is that life usually isn’t so easy for mushroom hunters. The best spots to hunt are typically not well maintained bits of nature, but rather the strange, semi-autonomous and semi-capitalized vastness that is governed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Given this, many of my favorite places to go for mushrooms are full of logging trucks (since the truckers are paid by the load, they often fly down the decrepit forest road system at speeds in excess of 40), shooters who set human-shaped targets against grandfather cedar trees and let fly with modified assault rifles, hostile rangers, and (with the least frequency of all) hyper-vigilant nature lovers who think mushroom hunting is in some way damaging to the environment. Typically, these people are easy enough to share the wilderness with; loggers are usually courteous, shooters self-contained, and park rangers/nature nuts scarce enough not to be worth worry. However, there are times when a diversion is in order. Below I will enumerate a few time-tested strategies to avoid detection.
1) Hide. The human brain is a powerful tool, but it also looks for certain sorts of information more than others. One reason political cartoons exaggerate facial features is because the human brain places exceptional stock in the face and head, making it disproportionally ‘large’ in the memory. Same thing with hands; for whatever reason, homo sapiens are prone to notice hands in the immediate environment (ironically, more easily than we notice threats like snakes, pits, and daytime television…perhaps this is a testament to our species’s social nature…). The point of all this is that if you can hide your face and hands, you’re very unlikely to be noticed by someone who doesn’t know you’re there. It’s uncanny, as a matter of fact; standing still and hiding your most human features makes one virtually invisible. Of course, it’s also important not to wear bright colors if you want to take advantage of this strategy, but if you’re willing to commit to earthtones you might find it insanely simple to vanish just by concealing your paws in your sleeves and pulling up a hood. If that fails, you can always pretend you’re a deer. I know it sounds absurd, but standing stag-like with your fingers emulating antlers is (reportedly) a good way to evade detection…I am not sure I agree with this recommendation, given the number of big game hunters in the woods, but again it’s a matter of concealing your humanity so that no one asks you questions.
2) Hide What You’re Doing. This is perhaps the easiest and most fun way to throw people off the scent of your fungal fancy; just pretend that you’re doing something other than hunting mushrooms. In state parks and other high use areas, I strongly suggest bringing along binoculars. If you hear the rumble of an approaching vehicle, whip out the scopes and pretend you’re looking at the most wonderful, rare titmouse you’ve ever seen. Bird watchers are rather depraved (insofar as I think their hobby is both boring and pointless), but they also enjoy a lot more leeway than mushroom hunters because they usually don’t eat their prey. Another way to hide your intent is to carry mountain bike racks on your vehicle.
3) Hide Your Edibles. If someone (usually a pissy ranger or self-righteous yuppie nature user who thinks that picking a mushroom is tantamount to cutting a tree) accosts you about mushrooming, it’s important to demonstrate that you are not just hunting species with culinary/market value. Anytime I’m in the woods I keep two collections: the harvest and the scientific inquiry bunch. Show them the latter first, rattle off a few Latin binomials, and they’ll snore long before they bother to ask you about the relative tonnage of your morel, porcini, matsutake or chanterelle haul.
4) Bluff/Turn On the Charm. One of my mushroom buddies was on a foray that was anticipated by the Tahoe National Forest ranger crew, and managed to avoid capture and steep fines by virtue of his mellifluous tongue. One of the foray attendees left a confirmation email at the ranger station, and unfortunately the email contained the following statement (paraphrased): “Technically, we will all need to go to the USFS station and pick up a free mushroom gathering permit for the foray. If you don’t get to it, don’t worry; since it’s a free permit and we’re only going to be hunting mushrooms recreationally, the chances we’ll run into trouble are pretty slim.” This is normally true, except when it shows up on a reception desk and is construed as a challenge to Forest Service vigilance. Flash forward a couple days, and Lou found himself at a miniature road-block, Westie chock-full of great mushrooms. The rangers don’t do traffic stop style investigations; usually they ask you to get out of the vehicle and come talk. Lou took advantage of this when he hit the shroom-perimeter, strolling out of the car and chatting with the rangers with as much pluck and courage as possible. They asked him if he’d been out picking mushrooms.
“Of course not,” he replied. “I’m here for the fly fishing.”
“We heard there was an illegal mushroom ring operating in this part of the Forest this weekend. Did you see any of them?”
“Yeah, I am not sure I’d even know what to look for. A big group? Like, hunting mushrooms commercially?”
“Yes. And yes.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you. I wish I could.” He struggled to hide the smirk that emerged on his features the second Ranger Doug asked him about illegal mushroom rings.
5) Take Your Licks, But Don’t Take Them Seriously. Sometimes, the shit just hits the fan and you have to fess up to the fees associated with wildcraft. It’s also the fast track to libertarianism, because getting a ticket for mushrooming is like getting a DUI for driving under the influence of fresh blackberries. That said, one of my mentors received a triple misdemeanor charge when he strayed off parkland into private property. He was not being terribly conspicuous, but the landowner did notice his presence and alerted county authorities, who charged Dave with a three crimes for his porcini-lust, and threatened a couple months in jail for the offense. Outraged (and Scottish), David arrived at court and disputed the severity of the punishments requested by the Sheriff’s office. Apparently, the DA smirked and the judge chortled when David came past the bar and made his case for being a relatively harmless trespasser who was gleaning fruit from private land without intent to sell what he’d found. He was promptly convicted, and offered a chance to participate in a diversion program. David, like most mushroom folk, highly values his clean wrap sheet and immediately agreed to any program that would keep him from carrying a conviction forward. Of course, the diversion our discerning judicial system offered David was wildly inappropriate: they enrolled him in a cognitive restructuring support group for shoplifters. For 3 months David sat in a plastic, public school grade chair once a week, and was asked to disclose his deep seated compulsions towards thievery. He was asked to clap when his classmates told everyone that they managed to walk into a mini-mart without stealing some Hostess products or nail clippers, or a can of Spam. He told them all about how he was unable to stop himself from picking mushrooms; how he should keep his hands visible in the woods so he doesn’t ‘ethically slip’, how he felt terrible for the financial loss he incurred upon the mushroom-hating property owner who phoned the sheriff to pick him up when he was spotted in the woods, hiding neither face nor hands. Of course, he didn’t take all this humiliation seriously, but it did scar him enough to tell me that all other sorts of diversion are better than being tangled up with the legal system and taking their favorable offer: the most debasing and profane of all forms of diversion.
6) Become Indispensable/Irritatingly Invested. Don’t try to steal attention from your mushrooming, but rather relish it and flaunt it. Divert negative attention from mushrooms by loving them. Divert suspicion by talking loudly about how amazing it is to find fungi. Divert stereotypes by focusing on edible and scientifically interesting species, rather than psychoactive ones. Share knowledge, encourage anyone who’s interested, and make sure that people understand what you’re doing; it’s not logging, or even fishing. Mushrooming serves the biological agenda of the fungi who produce fruiting bodies, and collecting them ethically is engaging in a partnership with inscrutable organisms that need our help. Even if one must pretend to be deer in order to enjoy the encounter, it’s well worth the absurdity.
- mushroomanna posted this