Okay, it's September. The time of year when, at least here in the Great Northwet, the forest floors are usually crawling with Chanterelles.
But, we're in the midst of a drought. We had the longest rain-free period on record this summer, broken only late last week by a fine spitty smattering of rain. So little, you could barely call it rain.
I'd been out on a foray a few weeks earlier, and found some Chanterelles struggling to survive in the dry forest. So, my hopes were lit at even at that pathetic little pinch of precipitation, thinking perhaps it might be enough to revive our friends.
I took my faithful steed Jedediah (actually, Jed is a small Class 3 motorhome that I can fit easily into a number of spots in the National Forest and use as a basecamp) and headed for the hills Tuesday night. I camped in my favorite spot then launched out, after a good breakfast, at first light on Wednesday morning to take a look.
I spent more than three hours traversing my usual hunting grounds. I sampled every spot where in previous years I had found an abundance of Chanterelles in September.
And here is what I came up with:
What you're looking at is the bottom of a fairly empty box. After about 2 hours or so, I found (in one spot) a struggling clump of Chanterelles. Those are on the upper right. (Look carefully, or you'll miss them!) They were dropping spores like white dust in a desperate effort to ensure the survival of their species in the face of the overwhelming drought.
On the left are Lobsters (R. brevipes infected with the Hypomyces lactifluorum fungus). These seem to be fairly drought-tolerant and have done quite well this year, although when they get large (and they are typically much larger than this) they rot quickly.
Whenever I've been out I've also seen evidence that the "pro" hunters (typically poachers) have been out in full force after the Lobsters. The forest is full of Lobster slices. (They slice through the stipes when they find them to see whether or not they are worth harvesting.)
I will happily turn these Lobsters over to my son, if he wants them, to use in his Asian food preparation. Or dehydrate them for later use (Lobsters dehydrate well). I will probably throw the poor Chanterelles into a larger group of rehydrated Chanties and make my favorite Cream of Chanterelle soup.
Not much to show for three hours of hard hiking, eh? We had planned to take groups out on Saturdays this month, but I think we'll place those plans on hold at least until we get a nice hard rain. I'll have to go out again and take another look to see if it helps revive our prospects.
By the way, it's not just Chanterelles that are affected by the drought. Normally at this time of year we see all sorts of Russulas and many others, including edibles like Boletes, Puffballs, Coral, Oysters and Angel Wings, Hedgehogs, etc. I found a very small (and nearly dead) Chicken of the Woods specimen, but no other edibles. I found just a few Russulas (which normally you can hardly avoid stepping on), and they all looked like this, or worse:
Note the green fuzz around the upturned edge. Yuk. Poor things.
And even the moss itself, normally brilliant green, is struggling ...
Note the dead spot in the center. Sort of shaped like a mushroom, huh? Sending me a message, no doubt: "The mushrooms are dying ... send water!"