We all have bucket lists. A list of events, adventures and places we want to experience before we, well, kick the bucket. It would be fun to take a peek at other people’s lists. I bet we all have a few unique things on there that others don’t. One experience on my list is mushroom hunting.

My Oma (grandmother) wouldn’t go near a mushroom. She knew someone growing up in Germany who picked the wrong ones and had an unpleasant demise. My mother and I were never sure if the story was true, but what we knew for sure was that she never, ever touched a mushroom.

I have always, for some reason been fascinated by them. I loved painting the red-topped with white dot variety as a child. Even now I love seeing them pop up in the fall. I really enjoy eating mushrooms as well, although I admit I have not been very adventurous. I had never been mushroom hunting and I never knew anyone who had. Until now.

One of my coworkers who hunts all kinds of wild mushrooms locally brought her homemade mushroom soup, made from hand-picked morels to share with us last year. Let me tell you. This soup was drop-dead delicious! (sorry Oma, I couldn’t resist) This sparked a conversation and from that moment, I knew I wanted to go on the hunt the next season. Finally, on a beautiful Friday in May, another bucket list item was crossed off. I spent the day morel hunting with some seasoned hunters outside of Naches.

My coworker set up a meeting with one of her friends who is an avid hunter. I, along with a few others who were a mix of well-seasoned and novice hunters embarked on our journey into the hilly forest area outside the Nile Valley. This is about as much as I can disclose on the location. Mushroom hunters can be a bit secretive about their favorite hunting spots. I promised that their location would stay safe with me.

The group set off and immediately one of the seasoned hunters spotted a morel. He saw it at such a distance, that I was completely impressed and thought, “well, this might be pretty easy.” Not so fast. It’s not that easy and there is a bit to learn and know about mushrooms and how to find the right ones. Fortunately, one of the other hunters took some time with me. We first found false morels that look similar to the edible morel, but can be quite poisonous. It helped that he would find a few then call me over and let me see them. The term “false morel” encompasses a number of different species including Gyromitra esculenta (the beefsteak mushroom) which is the one I believe we found several of. Their caps are not the same shape, but have the same deep ridges. The cap is also darker, more of a reddish-brown. The good news my mushroom friend said, is that the morels we are after are usually close to where you find the false ones.

With my eagle eyes on the ground and armed with new information, I continued my search. “Found one” I heard in the distance. Sure enough, my teacher spotted a beauty near the area we had seen the false morels. Again he asked me to find it myself. It’s much harder than you might think. Morels and pine cones are close to the same color and have a similar shape. Morels can be under things like leaves or be camouflaged by branches and tree stumps. But once I saw that one, and then a few more he found ahead of me, I started to really “see” the uniqueness of the morel in nature. There is a translucent element to them. Not quite discouraged, but close, I kept looking. At this point I had long given up the dream of bringing home a worthy amount to make anything out of. I just wanted to find one, so I could actually say I did it. And then, lo and behold, I found three at once! I didn’t dare move. I blinked my eyes a few times to make sure they were there. They were. Three beautiful morels. I cut my first one with such pride and took a photo.

I think it’s fair to say that my first experience has got me hooked. Mushroom hunting is a combination of a few things I love. Finding treasures and being in the great outdoors. Add to that, sharing the fun and excitement with friends. It’s no wonder that there are groups and clubs that gather in our area to share their knowledge and excitement for all things mushroom.

One such group is the Yakima Valley Mushroom Society. I came across them on Facebook and was able to connect with a couple who has been part of the group since almost the very beginning. Bob and Mary Camarata are both very involved with YVMS. Mary has been president in the past, and Bob is currently on the board as treasurer. Both share a passion for mushroom hunting that is clearly evident.

Mary’s introduction to mushroom hunting was almost accidental. As one of two girls and four boys, she became a tomboy. She hung out and played with other boys in her wooded hometown neighborhood in Michigan. It was there that the kids found morels and brought one home. There was a family living in the area that knew what they were and word quickly spread that the kids found morels in them-there woods. So the kids made it a fun competition when they played in the forest and mushroom hunting became one of Mary’s passions and something she now shares with husband, Bob.

As one might expect from a mushroom hunting club, the group organizes regular forays to hunt for spring and fall mushrooms. Spring is all about the morel, but fall offers other edible varieties such as Bolete, Chanterelle and Bear’s Head.

But this group is about more than just hunting. They are there to learn as much as they can about mushrooms from one another and other outside enthusiasts. They have interesting speakers come to talk about attributes of the mushrooms. Nichole McLaughlin, a nurse at Virginia Mason Memorial, did a presentation on how eating mushrooms can affect health in many beneficial ways including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. They have also invited Langdon Cook to speak at their meetings a few times. He is the author of The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, (winner of the Pacific Northwest Book Award) and Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Members of the group do cooking demonstrations and contests and a twice-yearly photo contest as well. Every October they present a Wild Mushroom Show, displaying over 100 varieties of fungi that the group has foraged. This is a free public event that takes place at the Yakima Arboretum and will happen again this year on October 22.

For more information about the Yakima Valley Mushroom Society, check out their website at www.yvms.org/ or, visit their Facebook page.

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