The Dark Side of Foraging
I have been foraging for edible wild mushrooms among other treasures in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, including Canada and the area surrounding my family home in Ireland, for decades. Not to mention that I am a trained wilderness guide, who has been participating in or helping to guide dozens of vision quests and forays, over the years.
The point is, that I consider myself not only an avid outdoorsman but smart and experienced when it comes to survival and safety in the elements. I make it my mantra before entering any wilderness environment, remote or otherwise to carry the essentials for survival along with me. I always pack water, emergency storm shelter, flashlights, honey for energy, a compass, or in extreme situations a GPS, not to mention a few other items, all of which are easily carried in a small back pack or hip sack.
That was the rule until last week when I got cocky and paid the price for it. I was foraging for edible mushrooms on a friend’s ranch in the rugged mountains above the Dry Creek Valley.
Because I was up to my ass in work for a consulting project, I planned to spend only about an hour or so scanning the woods before returning to my office to work. Because I thought I knew the topography well enough, I decided not to take anything other than a small flash light, my pocket knife and a whistle, along with my mushroom basket and pastry brush for cleaning. Problem is that when I start looking for fungus I am sort of like a hound dog, all semblance of reality leaves me and I focus solely on the ground in front of me.
It was a good day, in fact within the appointed hour I collected about thirty pounds of Porcini and several other choice varieties of fungi. At the allotted time I went searching for my buddy to the area where we had arranged to meet before heading down the mountain. Unfortunately my hound dog nature must have gotten the best of me, because when I arrived at the spot I could tell by her tracks that she had started back down the hill alone. This was not a big deal, because we had done this many times before and she was well aware of my obsessive nature, not to mention that she trusts my skill in the woods.
Naturally I figured I might just spend a bit more time looking around. That is when the trouble began. I headed in a direction up and over a hill that I had never explored before. Usually I always make it a point to stop every few minutes and gain my baring by taking mental pictures of land marks and the general direction I am heading. This afternoon I did none of this.
After about an hour or so it began to dawn on me that I needed to get back to work, so I confidently made my way in the direction I assumed was correct. That was when the perfect storm of events began to pile up. It seemed that no matter where I hiked I kept finding myself caught in very difficult terrain and the more this happened the more exhausted I became. Over the course of the next few hours I relentlessly hiked up and down steep hills, fought my way through immense thickets of Manzanita shrubs and poison oak.