Our lows are in the forties now—great sleeping weather!—and the first yellow lines lace the leaves like veins in a body. In two weeks gigantic splashes of yellow (aspens) and persimmon (serviceberry) will splash the hillsides as if a greater power had a temper tantrum with a handful of crayons. Random groves of flame-tipped aspens will flambouyantly overshadow everything.
While my literary agent shops my latest manuscript I’m preparing for what comes next—a season of snow and cold—just like my four-legged friends. About the best that can be said for winter here is that we have beautiful powder for skiing and snowboarding. For the mere mortals among us, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing draw us outdoors.
Thanks to one of the best mushroom-foraging seasons in years I have enough dried porcini and hawkswing to flavor soups throughout the winter. I’ll make a fine sherry-based porcini gravy to serve with our Thanksgiving tenderloins, feeling absolutely no guilt that turkey and I have finalized our divorce, and I no longer have to serve the bird.
I returned from the fishing tournament a couple of weeks ago, victorious with a chinook that was half-a-pound heavier than my daughter’s largest.
In true Big-Fish-Goddess fasion I landed the salmon, and its smaller friend, in the last thirty minutes of the competition. (As the tournamnet master weighed the winning fish, I distinctly heard my daughter say something unladylike before erupting in somewhat maniacal, hysterical laughter.) But she boated a thirty-eight-pound halibut—like hauling a Steinway grand from a trench deep on the ocean floor while praying that a shark doesn’t take it for a snackiepoo—so claimed bragging rights in the bottom-dweller division.
Bear activity here has reached peak proportions, and I never step into the garden without checking first for a hungry predator. The spots on the fawns are fading, and every doe looks exhausted. I stopped spraying Deer Off a couple of weeks ago, welcoming them to gorge themselves in my garden as they brace for a tough winter.
I’m riding Penelope twenty miles a week—she’s quite popular with the Farmers Market crowd—and golf is a great way to take advantage of a beautiful season in a magnificent place. (I’m thankful.) Next week my fly-fishing guide, who became a close friend so long ago that he’s family now, and I will end the season with our traditional meatloaf sandwiches, Fritos, and pumpkin cookies. We’ll be the boat of semi-geezers, catching and releasing loads of trout, peeping at the changing leaves, laughing at the noises we now make as we struggle with a fish or the oars.
In a few months I’ll be cross-country skiing while humming Christmas carols—a sobering thought.
So like everyone else in my valley I’m madly squeezing in every last drop of outdoor activity while the sun shines warmly. That means golf and fly-fishing, gardening and mushrooming. A world of porcinis (boletus) still awaits me on the mountains, but the weather is getting drier (not good for mushrooms, which are mainly water), and the ‘shrooms are getting bigger and mushier, more likely to have been marked by a toothy chipmunk or other small animal, less suitable for my purposes.
There are plenty of fine specimins still to be found, and I’m trying to forage every week now. That’s hard while preparing to co-lead a trip to Israel and Jordan in a couple of months and to teach adult Sunday School starting in just a few weeks, plus heading to a fishing competition in northwestern Canada in days. Things like bike rides and dinners out have to wait until mushroom season ends, and I schedule every week’s activities with an eye toward what I’m less likely to be able to do the next week.
But when I’m on the mountain, I cover more territory now. Seasonal campers are long gone, the sputtering roar of dirt bikes has fallen silent, and fewer foragers have pulled off onto the side of the dirt road. I show the same courtesy while mushoroming that my fly-fishing guide does while maneuvering his boat, never cutting in front of another forager/angler to steal his/her territory. Fewer foragers means more ground to cover politely.
But mushrooms like these are scarce commodities—and high-priced ingredients on the open market—that flavor soups and sauces when the snowflakes fly. They bring a little summer richness into the white bleakness of winter and remind me of warmer days, sweeter scents (snow doesn’t have a scent), bigger adventures. Mushrooming is an Easter-egg hunt for adults. You never know what you’ll find.
So looking ahead and given that my divorce from turkey is finalized, I’m serving Wagyu tenderloin for Thanksgiving, complete with sherry-porcini gravy (and a few dried currants from my bushes). So I’m slicing mushrooms to dehydrate (I feel like such a Mountain Mama), as well as quartering small ones to freeze. I’m queen of the slow-cooker in the colder months, and I’ll be thankful for the harvest I’ve put away. (My husband will be thankful, too. He’s a fan of good food.)
And when I taste that deep, earthy porcini flavor I’ll think of days scrambling up cutaways in the forest and mountain-goating down steep slopes with far less grace. I’ll remember the scent of warm pine and spruce, the chattering of small mammals, the stomp of big game somewhere up in the trees. The quiet camaraderie of fellow foragers, the joy of finding a field, the excitment in of carrying a heavy bag (five gallons is the daily limit) of porcini back to the vehicle. The knowledge that by foraging, I’m engaging in a practice that’s as old as time.
And I’ll dream of next August and September, when these babies pop up through the organic material on the forest floor. I’ll remember friendships I’ve made and shared while foraging in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, where I’m fortunate to live year-round.