IMG_20141210_131631Alan Rockefeller organized the meet-up and loosely led us through the forest. I had heard about Alan before I met him at the MSSF Fungus Fair back in December. He’s a local “guru,” especially when it comes to taxonomy. He spends half the year in Mexico collecting specimens and the other half in Oakland. Show him a mushroom — online or in real life — and he’ll name it within seconds. Only once or twice have I seen him pause with uncertainty, at which point he’ll recommend that you look at the shape of the spore — that is, under a microscope. Which he will assume you have access to and are in the habit of using.

As we walk, Alan is identifying mushrooming right and left. It’s hard to keep track. At one point, in response to one he seemed particularly excited about, I ask him, “What does it do?” 
“It decomposes wood,” he says. 

He has a dry sense of humor.

By which he means to say it doesn’t do anything “special” per say, just what all mushrooms doIMG_20141210_125448 — that is, things that are essential to the health of the forest and the ecosystem.

Since I started mushroom hunting, I’ve been excited about finding mushrooms I can eat. I noticed early on that serious mycologists tend to look down on this singular interest. My tunnel vision for edibles is a typical novice faux pas.

Alan is interested in every mushroom we come across, including the nondescript “LBMs” — little brown mushrooms.

Some of these turn a different color under black light, as we discover when Alan pulls out a portable black light. This is yet another technique for identification — and it’s cool.

We even find some teeny tiny translucent mushrooms growing on a twig.

Phalloides RingThere’s also tons of death caps of all sizes, in fairy rings. Wendee’s chihuahuas run around, oblivious, as we admire the unnerving symmetry.

Alan scouted out these patches beforehand and arranged the death caps from youngest to oldest, as if in a family portrait. It’s an illustrative exhibit to help the less knowledgeable forager learn to identify them at all stages of the life cycle.

If you’re going to learn to identify one species, this is it. Part of the wonder of the fungal kingdom is their power to completely shut down your liver with one good meal.

I did get my edibles in the end: we eventually come upon a patch of chanterelles. It’s hard to hide my fervor for these delicious mushrooms.