Expanded consciousness.  I walked into my backyard on July 10th, 2013, and there they were - new neighbors!  I had never seriously looked for them in the forest behind my house above the Eno River.  But in the proceeding months I made a circle of stones there as a place for meditation.  Perhaps, because I was now consciously more aware of the area, or my meditation actually drew them in, I was now facing for the first time a large patch of golden chanterelle mushrooms. 


     This is a magical event, I thought to myself as I carefully plucked one to take in for referral with a field guide.  I noted the false gills running down the underside of the cap, the white interior of the stem and that nice sweet fruity smell.  I once had studied them while walking with a competent forager three years before in Canada.  There was no question though, they were now in my own backyard and I was elated!  



     But why now?  I had moved onto this property eleven years previously and had never found a chanterelle.  The answer came with little further deliberation - 2013 was proving to be a very rainy year.  The added moisture must have made the difference, soaking into the earth and providing the support needed to encourage such a bold fungal response.  By the end of the 2013 rain totals were ten inches above normal according to the USGS rain gage just a mile from my house on the Eno RIver.


     So what can one do with chanterelles?  First, just marvel at this infusion of summer color on the ground.  They grow near the roots of living trees with whom they have a symbiotic nutrient sharing relationship.  They are not highly sought after by wildlife, so they tend to remain whole and undisturbed. I noticed that our neighborhood white-tailed deer are more likely to inadvertently trample them rather than take a bite.  


     But humans have a long history of savoring chanterelles. I harvested several nice servings for my eager appetite. Simply pan frying them in ghee or butter for several minutes brings out a delightful peppery flavor and a pleasing texture.  They can be enjoyed as an addition to any number of combined vegetable or meat dishes. But since this encounter is so completely local and wild, I prefer to just slowly partake of them as a solitary experience or maybe sautéed with onions.


     My first engagement with wild mushrooms came in 1988 when I lived for a year on the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  In the mountains in the fall, the saffron milk cap mushrooms make their annual appearance. Their beautiful carrot orange color dot the countryside as villagers cart them in baskets down to the markets of coastal Limmasol where I lived. That fall happened to coincide with the first year I committed to a vegetarian diet. The sudden availability of this mushroom in my diet proved to be my single biggest boost to distract me from the tempting availability of equally abundant island seafood. 


     So 25 years later the spirit of the cosmic mushroom decided to grace my life again!  But after a relatively brief, three week season of availability along the Eno River forest, I began to wonder if they would disappear in my life for another quarter of a century.  The following summer in 2014, after the Fourth of July, I began to check almost every day for the return of the Chanterelles.  Soon it was August and none were in sight and I began to lose hope of another fungal visitation. But I clung to my optimism because it seemed that amazingly we were having another cool summer with above average rainfall.


     There were lots of Jack o Lantern mushrooms which are a chanterelle look alike, but their distinctive, well formed gills on the underside of the cap gave them away.  Mushroom specialists consider them inedible for humans at best and quite poisonous at worst. It was now approaching six weeks past the date when chanterelles appeared in 2013.  But then suddenly on August 25th they finally appeared!  The 2014 season turned out to be shorter than the previous year, lasting only about ten days as the weather briefly turned hot and dry during their second week of appearance.


     But I was more than ready for them and again enjoyed several nice meals from this energetic patch of goldies.  I lined them up on my kitchen counter in various shaped piles and enjoyed photographing them.  When turned upside down with the stems in the air and the caps pointed downward, they reminded me of the whirling dervishes of the Mevlavi Sufi order performing their sacred dance.  Will they whirl their way back to my home on Wanda Ridge in summer of 2015 with yet another visitation?  Just the anticipation makes me all the more a celebrator of nature's seasons …


















Photos by Riverdave