Tag Archives: Forest

[Nature is Nurture] The Fundamentals of Foraging for Fungi

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Moving to a new city, let alone a brand new state, can be a harrowing task to say the least.  A move of any magnitude is a great time to spring clean the mind, but when you’re adjusting to an entirely different location I think it’s important that you take up some hobbies, both new and old, to ease yourself into your new environment while it becomes your new home.  Your old hobbies will get you back to basics, back to the core of you – it’ll remind you that home is and always will be in the sacrament of the mind and the spirit of the soul; while your new hobbies will transform your mental state into being present, letting go of the past and who you used to be in order to become who you need to be, who you desire to be.   My hobbies back in Los Angeles which are currently filed as ‘something old‘ include writing, sketching, photography, and beadwork; essentially home-based creative activities I could file under “things to do with my hands when bored”.

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Post-move, I’ve realized I’m not in Kansas anymore…er…rather, California anymore; I’ve gone from enjoying a keen understanding of the geography, topography and landscape of world around me to having a childlike sense of wonder and amazement about this new natural world around me, and suffice it to say – there’s simply so much to learn about, from nature photography on any of the hundreds of local hikes, to hunting for rare minerals, geocaching and my newest favorite – foraging for fungi.

As you learn to leave and let go of unnecessary mental connections to where you were,  you begin to forge new networks, shedding pieces of the life you once had to create yourself anew – mushrooms are very similar; with growth as their only form of mobility, fungi straddle the perpetual edge of life and death, not to mention animal and plant, all the while communicating as one in the  mycelial network.  Ranging from neutrally colored and more natural, to delightfully vibrant and oddly formed, Fungi are the primary decomposers of earth’s ecosystem, and a wild menagerie of them at that!

Many have medicinal qualities, which indigenous tribes historically as well as presently still use for a variety of treatments. Some boost the immune system, while others increase levels of antioxidants, or destroy abnormal cells; some stimulate the libido or assist in nerve regeneration, while others open the mind and aid in treating depression and anxiety. Some have magical qualities, featuring various doses of psychedelic psilocybin, boasting immense psychological benefits which are finally being taken seriously by the FDA

False Turkey Tail
Photo by Daniel Leist

These types of mushrooms are championed by the likes of Terence McKenna, infamously quotable ethnobotanist who gave us the ‘Stoned Ape Theory‘, internationally renowned mycologist Paul Stamets and the indelible Joe Rogan. 

For anyone that’s watched the latest Star Trek Discovery series, you might note that their chief medical engineer shares the same name as well as the same mycelial ideologies of the earthborn Paul Stamets, and follows his book Mycelium Running very closely; anyways – the trekkie in me digresses. Last but certainly not least – a small handful are incredibly toxic, deadly toxic if you will, with several mimicking their benign cousins.  This makes it  incredibly important that you do your due diligence when researching, and save snagging them for your meals until you have a keen understanding of harmful versus helpful mushrooms. 

Turkey Tail


“Mushrooms are a natural source of energy, immunity, and longevity that’s been studied for centuries. They are so great, that they’ve even earned the title of ‘superfood’.”  


Terence McKenna

They’re not animals and they’re not vegetation – so what exactly are fungi?  Fungi can then be separated into three distinct groups based on how they get their nutrients.  Mycorrhizal Fungi, which are symbiotic fungi, live in harmony with the plants around them.  On the other hand, Saprophytic Fungi live on dead organic matter instead of assisting in its decay. Finally, Parasitic Fungi are the cause of vegetative decay, as well as the recipients of all the nutrients. Mushrooms are considered the fruiting body of a variety of fungi, other types of fruits are algae and molds – but for the most part, fungi exists at a microscopic level that goes unseen to the human eye.  Fungi are used as antibiotics, to ferment food and alcohol, and even as detergent; you might be surprised at how many everyday items you use that have been treated with some form of fungus.

“Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.”


Thomas Carlyle

So, how about mushrooms? As the spore bearing, fruiting fungus body – mushrooms occur in technicolor and can take a menagerie of different shapes.  Young mushrooms, often referred to as buttons, are primarily a cap and a preformed stalk under a universal veil.  Over time, the cap will expand in an umbrella like fashion with either spores, gills, teeth or veins to show for its work while the stalk simultaneously gets longer. Some mushrooms have a cup at the base of the stalk which is often deep in the dirt – so when foraging, remember: dig, don’t pick!

Morphological characteristics of the caps of mushrooms

If you weren’t already sold on mushrooms, here’s a few facts that make them even more amazing to me.

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Foraging for Fungi

So, now that you’re more up on your mushroom game – let’s talk about the best tips and tricks for finding those fungi and hunting down some of the coolest creatures on our planet.  The best thing about this type of hunt? No weapons necessary – just some keenly attuned eyes and your roaming feet. 

  • Location, location, location
    • If you notice one visible mushroom, the fruiting body of the fungi, take a step back and see if you can notice any others.  Mushrooms populate in a line, or rather, a circle stemming from a fungal epicenter.
  • Timing is everything
    • The rain brings good things, including the proper climate for mushroom hunting.  Depending on where you live, California and Oregon see their season at the beginning of Fall and Winter (but really, it’s pretty year round in Oregon), while the East Coast has its best seasons around early Spring. A rule of thumb is to wait two weeks after two inches of rain have accumulated. 
    • As a side note, time of day is equally important as many fungi will only fruit once the temperature starts to drop
  • Let a little sunshine in
    • Though fungi notably prefers dimly lit or dark atmospheres, light will inspire fungi to produce mushrooms 
  • Check the soil
    • As natural decomposers, mushrooms enjoy disturbed dirt – so make note of the floor of whatever forest you’re lurking in
  • Learn the Flora and Fauna
    • Most mushrooms have affinities towards specific weather conditions, as well as specific types of trees.
    •  For example, king boletes enjoy spruce, pine, oak and birch treeschantrelles prefer conifers  and oyster mushrooms will defer to aspens.

Things to Bring

  • A picnic basket or a few paper bags to put your keep in
    • For those wanting to ID a variety of fungi, snag a small tackle box to keep each kind separate
    • For those going the picnic basket method, leave the bottom open for the mushrooms to spore as you travel so the next explorer can enjoy them as well!
  • A small hand shovel so you can get the whole mushroom
  • GPS kit or rope / yarn to mark you path so you don’t get lost
    • You don’t even want to know how many people get lost in the woods every year searching for mushrooms, so please don’t be part of the statistic.
    • The Gaia GPS app is an excellent resource if you’re willing to get the Pro version!
  • Put the fun in fungi and remember to enjoy yourself!

When you find your magical, mystical mushrooms – document that sucker! Take a few photos that accentuate the colors of the top, the bottom of the cap – to see what types of gill or pore the fungi boasts, and the stalk of the mushroom – then step back and get a photo of the scenery; if your phone doesn’t geocache your location for each image, or you don’t want it to – trust me I get it,  drop a pin in your map application with a note about what you found so you can come back and see how it’s grown. 

I can’t stress this point enough: even though many fungi are fun to spore on paper and there are a good amount that are both edible and tasty, like I mentioned earlier –  be very wary! Collect what you will and document it all, but not just are some fatally toxic, but others will give you awful indigestion and a good amount simply taste downright awful and you won’t want anything to do with them post-pick or post-pic.  

Resources for Mushroom Lovers

General Books

Redwood Coast / Oregon Specific Books

Apps

As this is the modern age and it’s a bit untoward to carry around dozens of nuanced encyclopedias – I’m accumulated a list of amazing smart phone apps to try while on the go.  Most seem to be bi-phonal, but I’ll make a note when certain ones are unavailable to either vertical.

Mycelial Networks

One things for sure, if foraging for fungi is fun alone – imagine how great it could be with the right company! From Facebook groups devoted to the Pacific Northwest to National groups, here’s some of my personal favorites.

What are some of the best tips and tricks you’ve learned for fungi foraging? Let me know in the comments below!

Mushroom, Fungi, Oregon, Nature
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[Wedding Wisdom] Do You While Saying ‘I Do’

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Marriage.  It’s the magical union of two twin flames, the serendipitous soul chaining of emotional counterparts, an emotive, extrasensory adventure that tugs on your heartstrings – but for most millennials, it’s just another institution to avoid.  Almost exactly three years ago, my fiance proposed to me – it wasn’t planned, there wasn’t anyone to capture it on candid camera – or even just candidly, hell – he didn’t even have a ring, but we had each other, we had the moment.  The minimalists, pragmatists, and the hopeless romantics will all echo the sentiment that those things are far more than enough. But one thing I’ve learned by simply entertaining a wedding, is that everyone’s got their something about them: traditions, advice, warnings, must-dos, and the like – so while you’re busy saying ‘I Do’, don’t forget the most important tradition of all: doing you.

Traditions, by in large, are important familial and social constructs with a bevvy of history, and from what it sounds like: wedding traditions, doubly so.  Unfortunately, every time I see the word tradition, my mind instantly jumps to the opening scene of Fiddler on the Roof and nothing that’s actually useful for my big day.   With the big day inching closer and closer, I’ve found myself reaching out to family and friends to find out what the hell one is actually supposed to do at their wedding, and what traditions people threw to the wind in lieu of making their own.  And I’ve discovered this: weddings aren’t where you’re forced to embrace past traditions, but where you can forge new rituals – with your new family.  I’m not saying don’t listen to your parents, siblings, grandparents, best friends, Starbucks barista, gas station attendant or bartender – but what I’m saying is that what they want, for their special day, should have no reflection on what you choose to do.

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Three years ago when Danny proposed to me, he had no ring, and no pomp – just serendipitous circumstance in the Canadian forest.  It was our first trip out of the country together.  After a thousand miles in the car, a sketchy border crossing and being inducted into Shamb-fam – deciding to spend forever together seemed as natural as breathing. Merely hours later, as we danced under the full moonlight with new friends – a carpenter named Bruce reached into his pocket, toying around with a string.  A twinkle flashed in his eyes as he explained he only made five, was down to his last one and was hoping it would fit me.  Giddy to be receiving anything at all, I didn’t bother asking what, instead I put out my hand like a seven year old trick-or-treating through their first Halloween. It was a ring; a wooden ring that only fit my ring finger; a wooden ring that then became my engagement ring, which got me to thinking: why are there engagement rings and wedding rings?  The answer: De Beers.

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It used to be customary to only have one ring, the wedding ring, that is – at least, until De Beers came into the picture. From the early 19th Century, De Beers has a monopolized control over the diamond mines of South Africa – creating illusions of scarcity to drive sales.  Once our Great Depression of the 1920’s and 30’s hit, De Beers believed it had a genius marketing plan to get our consumer nation back on spending track: telling us that diamonds are forever; marketing the idea of love, not a brand – not a product – but the idea. Fast forward to now, and engagement rings are a booming industry, accounting for almost 20% of total diamond sales in the US, and bringing in a whopping $7 billion annually. Roughly a quarter of all purchases at Tiffany’s + Co are derived from wedding bands and engagement rings, while almost half the sales at Sterling Jewlers’ retailers like Jared and Kay are derived from engagement rings.  Overall, engagement rings actually represent about 20% of US diamond sales. All in all, those statistics speak more to a corporate level greed and an ostentatious, ego-maniacal society than they do a forever type of love, but that’s just my opinion.

The wedding registry happens to be another  trend that I’m all too ready to put to rest.  Yes, everyone loves presents – but, weddings are about presence, not presents.  As opposed to only 35% 15 years ago, almost half of all married couples in 2017 have previously cohabitated for an average of 22 months, or almost two years. Let me put it bluntly: you can accumulate a lot of shit in two years.  What was once just “my shit” and “your shit” has now collectively become “our shit”, and “our shit” comes with a lot of redundancy, and no one needs redundant redundancy.  Though wedding dowries have been of historical cultural significance for centuries, a registry and a dowry are two horses of completely different colors.  Much like the De Beers Diamond plot of the 1920’s, up until the Great Depression there was no such thing as a wedding registry – until Macy‘s came along, and other department stores were all too eager to jump on board.

Now, how about the wedding party? Though some people elope, and many do keep it small – it also feels like some people invite everyone to the West of the Mississippi to their big day.  Obviously, the more the merrier and who doesn’t love love, but at a certain level it becomes all sorts of impersonal and not meaningful; almost like you’re getting married for show, not for yourself.  A large party, now sure – count me the fuck in; but a wedding, the bonding of two souls and binding of two lives is such an intimate idea that to me, it begets an intimate ceremony. In my seemingly biased opinion, large weddings more than force you into employing a bridal party – of elevating those closest to you, and imposing stratified levels of closeness.  On the other hand, at a small wedding – you can flip the script.  Our wedding, a destination wedding of sorts, will be small, the kind of small where I have to use small as an adjective to emphasize an adjective – but that’s just the way I like it.  One of my favorite perks to having a small ceremony, is that everyone at the wedding is part of the bridal party; everyone is a groomsman or a bridesmaid, because everyone there is equally important to us.  But, do you know the history of bridesmaids and groomsmen? Confarreatio, a form of wedding from the Ancient Romans, required 10 witnesses for the ceremony to legally binding; these witnesses evolved into the modern bridal party.  The groomsmen and bridal party were also tasked with warding off evil spirits.  Back in antiquity, the maid of honor and bridesmaids wore identical outfits to trick the spirits out of targeting the bride, while the best man was a literal wingman – warding off other potential suitors while the groom whisked away the bride-to-be.

Last, but certainly not least: the wedding dress.   Growing up, I was taught that the white in a wedding dress was a symbol of purity – but as it turns out,  because of the (a) lack of soap and (b) levels of general filth, up until the 18th century there weren’t many white wedding gowns.  In fact, the white aspect of the wedding dress is primarily associated with well to do Western culture, where many Eastern traditions actually involve a red dress in lieu of the white.  In all honesty, the white wedding dress is one of the few wedding traditions I’ll keep, though it’s definitely not for the sake of my purity.  However, what I find do find ridiculous are people that think a wedding dress is anything other than just a white dress, worn on the wedding. Some dresses range into the thousands, others into the tens of thousands…and to wear…once?  Dios mio! I would rather get a down payment on a house or a car. After spending a day at the mall struggling with the idea of a “wedding” dress, I found the perfect white dress in under ten minutes once I got out of the mindset that it had to come from a “bridal” store. So, now you might be asking – are there any other traditions that you’re keeping?  Yes, duh.  We’re getting married, exchanging vows and rings – and that’s as much of a tradition as I need.

Love isn’t just an idea, it’s an action – it’s a verb, it’s something you do.  Despite what Department Stores want you to believe, your love isn’t a commodity and your marriage doesn’t need to be monitized. Your wedding is a collection of beautiful moments rolled into one glorious day, celebrating with those you hold nearest and dearest to your heart – don’t sell yourself short, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do because fingers crossed, this is the only one you get.  So enjoy, indulge, drink champagne and get excited; say Yes, say I do but most importantly – do you. 

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Photos by Get Tiny Photography: Instagram | Facebook

[LA Life] Say Yay to Snow Days!

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Halfway between a creature of habit and victim of circumstance are a multitude of reasons that I’ve barely ever visited the snow.  Growing up as a swimmer in the Bay Area, I loved the sun and water more ways than I could count; while on family vacations we constantly favored beautiful beaches with their sandy waves over the glistening snow-capped mountains.  I barely ever made it to the snow as a child and can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen it in person.  Not to mention, I can be quoted as saying “I’m a Image may contain: tree, snow and outdoor‘Hawaii’ kind of girl” more times than I can count, because bless my parents – they still like to remind me of all those years before I turned into such a nature nymph. To them, it’s any wonder that I’ve turned from a self-professed city kitty into a rough(er) and tumble(r) snow bunny, but here I am – ready for business, and by business I mean nature-inspired personal pleasure.

One of the many, many fantastic things about living in Los Angeles (Southern California…and just California in general),  is that on any given day you can make a trip to the sand or a trip to the snow; if you’re feeling frisky, you can even get a delightful dose of both! Beach days, though beautiful, are proverbially a dime a dozen in the land of palm trees, blue skies and power lines and let’s get real – everyone flocks to the sandy shores: your housemates, your neighbor, your landlord, celebrities and vacationers all come for the beach – which makes hitting those pearly slopes significantly sweeter.  There are near trips and far trips, day trips and trips you should probably make a whole weekend out of. Don’t quote me on exact travel times because, HELLO Los Angeles traffic, but if you’re in the mood for a fantastic day trip – Mt Baldy and the defunct Mt Waterman Ski Lifts make for excellent treks and are just an hour outside of LA proper in the San Gabriel Mountains, while Big Bear in the San Bernadino National Forest is a little over two hours away.  If you’re feeling like an adventure is in the works, Sequoia National Forest is a few hours away and makes for an epic Winter weekend journey.

Pack + Play

For as fun as a snow day is, being fully prepared for your snow day will make things go a hell of a lot smoother (and, warmer!). First things first, make sure you have enough hydration and nutrition to last the day – and then some.  Make some sandwiches, grab some snacks get a good combination of both salty and sugary foods; in case anyone’s body starts going into a bit of shock – it’ll bring them right back! When it comes to water, even though the weather might be a big frightful and frigid, it doesn’t mean your body isn’t working overtime – especially if you head out on a hike.  Make sure you have twice as much as you think you need, and enough for any pups (or, brave cats!) that are along for the ride. Just like in the movie Shrek, when it comes to clothes in the cold – it’s all about layers, so snag a scarf, get a beanie, and a hoodie – or two; if you’ve got fur, this is the perfect time to rock it.  Because of the nature of snow, if you’ve got waterproof pants, socks and or shoes, bring ’em out. Basically, waterproof everything is a plus – GoPro, iPhone 7, you name it – it’s perfect for the snow.  Also, booze…responsible boozing also makes the snow a whole lot more fun.


[Traveling Tales] Serenity in the Sequoias

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With the sporadic influx of pseudo-Winter weather in Southern California over the last few weeks, a fresh blanket of snow had dusted over the local mountain ranges and springtime blossoms were peeking out with pastel colors against fifty shades of green.  Once I caught wind of the awe inspiring pictures of Yosemite’s fabled February Firefall, the itch for wanderlust had flooded back through my veins.  Twenty minutes and an excited conversation with Danny later, and we were scheming about what shenanigans we could get up to for the weekend.  Since the weekend before was a beautiful three day Valentine’s Day and President’s Day twofer, we realized that there would be very few people on the roads traveling about – which made it perfect timing for a quick weekend adventure.

A self professed ‘city kitty’ of sorts, I can easily count the number of times I’ve played in the snow on one hand.  So, the genuine prospect of an outdoors adventure prancing around a crystalline cloud makes me giddy, like a school girl crush on the first day of Summer. After consulting the map, we realized a 36 hour trip to Yosemite was a bit lofty – but the good news was that we could cut our travel time in half and finally enjoy the stunning scenery that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have to offer.

After some quick research of the area, we devised what I thought was a genius game plan. First, we jotted up to Project Survival Cat Haven for a quick stop and a Caturday inspired tour of the big cat sanctuary and conservation center.  Between the gorgeous Lions, Bengal Tigers, Lynx, Leopards and more – the feline fanatic inside me was absolutely satiated. Then, we headed off to King’s Canyon to frolic in the snow and gallivant around Grant’s Grove.

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A full day of snow filled adventure later, and we were ready to turn down for a delicious meal overlooking the Kaweah River in the sleepy town of Three Rivers, right outside of the southern entrance of the park.  Once we found our cabin for the night, we nestled in and reflected on our incredible day, while memories intermingled with the rich aroma of a Winter night’s fire and laughter. The next morning as the sun slowly soared over the mountains, we found ourselves enraptured by beauty at each and every angle, from geometric reflections in the pool to the warm aroma of rosemary and lavender. After some hearty conversation with some of the locals, we were off, off and away – but this time, into Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest.

Founded back in 1890, Sequoia National Park stretches to over 400,000 acres of land with topographies that range from 1,000′ to 12,000′ – including the highest point within the Great 48, Mount Whitney. The park contains 34 separately stunning groves of Giant Sequoia Trees, accounting for nearly half of the Sequoia groves in the world. A member of the Redwood family, Sequoias are considered to be one of the oldest living entities on Earth with it’s  oldest members dated at an awe inspiring 3,266 years old; for some perspective, the oldest living tree is an astonishing 9,550 years old.  Featuring fibrous, fire resistant bark – the Giant Sequoias rank in as the world’s largest single trees, and largest living thing by volume.  The world’s largest tree by volume, the General Sherman clocks in at over 52,000 cubic feet, stands over 280′ tall and is aged between 2,200 and 2,700 years old. The park also contains the next four largest trees in the world – including three additional Sequoias that lie within the Giant Forest.

Sequoia-44One of my favorite things (and there were a lot of favorite things) about the park is the varieties in the terrain, yielding a complex menagerie of landscapes within a small area. In addition to the incredible Sequoia themselves, the flowing Kaweah River was roaring with delight while wildflowers sprang out sporadically from behind bushes and gold dusted rocks. Waterfalls peeked from around each and every bend, with small off the beaten path hikes and trails, while incredible granite monoliths like Moro Rock and Hospital Rock towered above us like a watchdog.

Heading up the mountain one more time, we ascended in direct proportion to our excitement – with changes in elevation causing me to constantly bundle up in more warmth around each and every turn. Eventually, we arrived at Big Trees Trail – the home of the General Sherman, and you better believe there was a whole lot of tree hugging going around.  Their warm rich color paired with vibrant evergreen needles against the pristine white snow made for a nearly spiritual moment seeped in serenity.  Ravens and red tailed hawks flew to and fro while the trees beckoned to us gently in their stillness; standing in their shadow, a wave of humbling calmness washed over me as I finally felt like I understood the true gravity of the world.  Stuck within a moment of lucid beauty,  I found I’d lost track of time and couldn’t tell if we’d been standing there silent for moments, minutes or hours. I left the forest feeling transformed, transfixed on what felt like a life changing experience underneath the stunning Sequoia.

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Hands down, the National Park Systems is one of the best gifts that the United States Government could give back to the people and slowly but surely, the country mouse is coming out of me and I’m truly enjoying submersing and submerging myself within its ubiquitous beauty.  If last year I could find the time to work and play at a new music festival every month, this year I can certainly commit to a new national park every month.  And now, with this past trip under my belt, I have to admit that Sequoia now has a special place in heart and is my favorite park that I’ve visited so far, with Zion and Red Rocks coming in as close seconds.  If you have grandiose plans of traversing the park soon, be aware that Generals Highway is closed between Lodgepole and Grant Grove – and the depending on your proposed route, your detour can be an incredibly narrow and windy road (trust).  The closure will be reopening in Mid March.

What’s your favorite National Park and which ones are on your bucket list?

 

 
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