Hugh Erle Smith
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Favorite Forays

Alaska Foray, August 20 - 28, 2011

Intro | Mushrooms | People | Misc.

Sunrise...again? It just went down! On your mark, get set, hunt!

Yes, sunrise again. It rises slowly and in an odd place, south of East. Then it stays up for a long time.

A long time!

The days are currently 15 hours, 40 minutes, losing 5 minutes per day.

And don't miss the sunset. Oh, but you won't. It lasts as long as the sunrise. And it sets in an odd place too, south of West.

Colorful and glorious.

The arc of the sun up here is about the same as the arc of a rainbow, 43 degrees of sky. This is dictated by our position and distance from our sun. Ever wonder why you can't take a picture of a complete rainbow with any basic lens? Now you know.

I was told to buy pepper spray to carry with me in the forest in case of an encounter with Bears. The problem with this idea is everyone has Pepper Spray. This means no one could possibly tell which Bear poop was you. And as for wearing bells... there are so many people with these too, so it sounds like a herd of goats walking through the woods and there's no way to tell when one of you is missing. Does a Bear and a cask of Amontillado ring any bells?

Most of the time I wore a hat (except in restaurants, duh). A hat not only keeps your glasses dry but can be very useful for pushing through the bush while keeping your eyes to the ground. There are mushrooms everywhere! In the woods where I'm from, the trees are not nearly this close together. Here, you could be pushing through trees constantly. The trees can be 3 feet apart! They are all touching! A hat also prevents me from getting Gorbys on my shiny head.

The one day I forgot to wear a Gorby.

Richard and I were in the woods, staying off trail. It's like floating through the forest, walking on a two foot thick carpet of plush, undulating Sphagnum Moss. There are mushrooms everywhere!

Here comes this small group of people, walking down a trail near us (the forest is so dense, so unlike what we're familiar with that just a few feet off the trail you are completely invisible). Richard and I started grunting and growling. The women in the group immediately turned and ran back towards whence they came. We then spoke to them to allay their fears. They said that wasn't very funny and that they had just seen three bears. Three? That means two cubs.

Later, Sandi and I were walking through the woods and this time we were walking ON a trail. There was a noise in the bushes. It grew louder and it was very near. Not being a familiar sound, my hair stood up all over my body and the adrenaline flowed. Richard could no longer compose himself as he watched us scurry about, bumping into each other with terrified looks on our faces, questioning our survival.

In all actuality though, I wasn't scared. I was reaching for my camera.

On another hunt, we went to a place called Moose Flat. It's a day use area and it was a Saturday. Not a soul was there. Kind of like a Bolete hunt in Alaksa. Nobody around. As we pulled in to the area, there before us was a mother Moose and her baby. Sandi screeched so loud she scared off the Moose from 50 yards away with the windows up. Can you imagine what it sounded like inside the van?

Today it's raining... somewhere. Not here. We spent the day along a road near a great lake in a vast array of habitats (lots of secret laughing places) and didn't see a drop of rain. As we drove back toward the lodge after a short days hunt (only 8 hours) we came into rain. There were sheets of water on the road and hydroplaning was a concern. Gullies had formed in Bill & Geri's driveway. Who could have guessed only a few miles east of here it never hinted at rain?

But... it's still daytime, so let's hunt!

Can you imagine a King Bolete every 3 feet in every direction in an area the size of a large room? OK, I'm exaggerating. Can you imagine a King Bolete every 4 feet in every direction in an area the size of a large room? And no competition? Difficult to imagine, isn't it. But if you can, then you've probably been to Alaska. I have, so I knew what to expect. And when you go, you'll know what to expect too. Expect the unexpected. Maybe it's always like this up here.

So many Boletes, so few dryers. Some people were buying them after we got up there. I sent two dehydrators ahead from California so they'd be there when I arrived. Amazon had free shipping and I taped them together as one for the ride home. I ran them 24 hours a day but the last day I didn't pick any since there was no more time to dry them.

There is only one specie of Moose (here), two species of Rabbit (here), 1 specie of Ice Worm (here), 1 specie of Porcupine (here), 2 kinds of music (Country & Western), and 1 specie of Human. And although there are very few species of trees on the Kenai Peninsula, the number of mushroom species and even the number of mushroom Genuses will surprise anyone. Last year we documented 192 species and this year I counted more than 130, not including Cortinarius! I appeared to be the only one counting, but I could not have found so many on my own. All of those eyes, old and new are most valuable and appreciated.

The types that are known edibles (if someone cooks them for you) are numerous as well. (If no one cooks, then none are edible). Our group prepared many, including 2 Pleurotus species, 4 Leccinum species, Boletus grand-edulis, Hawk Wings, Gypsies, and Hericium ramosum. The Leccinum, Hericium and Boletus were the best of all. Of course, we had some excellent cooks. Other mushrooms that were identified but not prepared were Shrimp Russula (Russula xerampelina), Brown Matsutake (Tricholoma caligata), Hedgehogs (Hydnum umbilicatum), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus coniferacola) Man On Horseback (Tricholoma flavovirens) and Panaeolus(!).

On another one of our many forays, we went in search of Gypsy mushrooms, formerly Rozites caperata and now Cortinarius caperatus. These are easily identifiable once you have seen the look-alikes.

After that, we hunted Kings again. Found another new spot to hunt too, about a mile long. Add one more place to the hunting list Bill. And bring the wheelbarrow.

After this we went to Seward, a port town to the south. Seward sits below the Harding Ice Field, a 500 square mile blanket of ice on top of a mountain range that feeds numerous Glaciers. The most accessible glacier is Exit Glacier. This glacier is receding and it is interesting to see how much has changed since we were there one year ago. I won't really know until I compare my photos from this year and the last year.

Of course, there are mushrooms at the glacier and Slime Molds too. It's impossible to imagine that not too long ago, the areas where we stood and walked were completely covered under a sheet of heavy, grinding ice. No plants, nothing. Only Ice Worms.

After getting as close as was allowed to the glacier we then went to the outwash plain. Many people walked right up to the leading edge of the glacier and several of us walked out onto the cobblestone plain to catch some ancient ice. Unlike regular ice, glacial ice is almost free of any air bubbles and therefore is perfectly clear. But many other substances can be trapped in this ice and through the eons, inevitably, many things have been.

Since this ice is clear, it is only intermittently visible as it flows and tumbles past you in the silt laden fast moving water. This is a fair size river coming out of just this one glacier and ice chunks of all sizes are tumbling down the river, some too large to pick up. Richard held onto me as I attempted to lean out and grab a piece as they rushed by but I was unsuccessful. Bill leaned out to grab one and almost fell in. I said, "Bill, I saw signs everywhere that said children don't float." But he managed to get a nice chunk of ice and in it were spots of what appeared to be volcanic ash. The spots were uniform gray and clay-like, not gritty like you might expect. And these spots were throughout the ice rather than in a sedimentary layer. We ate some of this ancient frozen water. Sandi got ash on her tongue.

How long ago did this ash fall and from what volcano? Was it an Alaskan volcano? Or was it from Russia or Japan? How many mushroom spores were embedded in this single piece of ice? How many species? Were they still viable?

I pondered. What a place. What a planet!

The day we left Sterling, we went early and stopped at Girdwood. They were having their 4th annual Fungus Fair. It was Sunday and the fair was winding down. Ryane Snow, Patrick Hamilton and Connie Green were there. I didn't see them but we saw people from our original group and Henry and Marjorie Young were in attendance, and on their way to Bill & Jerri's to replace us. I feel we were here early this year (mushroom season-wise) and they were probably going to witness a greater abundance than us. But how could that possibly be?

The Fungus Fair had 3 tables of mushrooms. If only they could have met up with us. To my knowledge our species lists surpasses theirs from one year alone.

Bill and Jerri, thank you so much for making this kind of mushroom foray possible. The forays, Pot Lucks and campfires were such a blast!

Toni, remember that bottle of Tequila you brought up there last year?

It's still there along with another bottle.

All of the mushroom dishes (cough), the Salmon dishes (choke, well, except for the McDonald's Filet O'Mac) and the Hot dogs (Sphincters, lips and eyelids, yeah!) and S'Mores (hold the Graham Crackers and the Marshmallows please) will never be forgotten.

Without you two, we might never have known there could be such a place with such great diversity and abundance.

Let's hunt!

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