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Walking Right Past Them

Amanita Muscaria, Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Gabriel Leete

If you’re not attentive, it’s easy to walk right past mushrooms.

However, as Gabriel Leete shows in this collection, when you do, you’re missing a beautiful aspect of late fall color, as their color and form are endlessly fascinating. 

Gabriel works at the California Welcome Center in Anderson (I-5, south of Redding). Just north of the Welcome Center is Anderson River Park where Gabriel often looks down to find mushrooms, though Gabriel also treks to the North Coast to discover them pushing up through the detritus.

Mushrooms appear on forest floors, soon after it rains. They grow quickly because rather than use cell division, as animals and most plants do, they employ cell enlargement, allowing mushrooms to grow as rapidly as they can take in water.

Within hours, a mushroom can grow from something the size of a pinhead to the Cortinarius that Gabriel is holding below.

Gabriel Leete admires a variety of Cortinarius, Patrick Point State Park, Trinidad (12/9/18) Self-portrait

Gabriel has been hunting mushrooms for nearly two decades and knows his fungi. He’s the first to say, that one person’s edible chanterelle might, upon closer inspection, be a poisonous variety of Cortinarius. So, expertise and caution are required when adding wild mushrooms to your diet.

However, he also believes mushrooms have gotten a bad rap. They’re full of B vitamins, gmushrooms.com writes, “especially niacin and riboflavin, and rank the highest among vegetables for protein content. But because they are low in fat and calories, Western nutritionists mistakenly considered them of no food value (a fresh pound has only about 125 calories). Yet in dried form, mushrooms have almost as much protein as veal and a significant amount of complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides. Shiitake mushrooms are among the most delicious & very nutritious.”

Because they grow from decaying matter, they’re all somewhat disgusting, but also things of beauty. And, of course, they can be deadly.

In 2012, The London Telegraph reported that 18 Italian mushroom hunters, “died in just a 10-day period. Many of them had forgone proper footwear, clothing and equipment and died after steep falls down Alpine slopes.” One of them was a 65-year-old woman who fell 40 feet to her death near the Swiss border.

My sordid attempt at humor aside, while there is the hazard of hunting them on wet, slippery slopes, there is also the possibility of eating a poisonous variety. Of one thing is certain, there’s no sitting on a fence when judging a mushroom, even though they often do. 

Here are some of the beauties and beasts, Gabriel has found on recent walks through the woods.