I was out wanderin’ around the other day in the Santa Barbara backcountry and happened to be near a place where I know chanterelles grow. I had not planned on picking any mushrooms, but since I was so close I decided to take a looksee at how they were growing this season.
Not more than fifteen feet apart there were both Jack O’Lanterns and chanterelles growing from the base of small trees. And the chanterelles were not growing on the base of a Coast Live Oak either or any kind of oak for that matter, although oaks were nearby.
Then the incident occurred.
I had just finished packing some mushrooms in my backpack and cranked the zipper shut ziiiiiiiiiiiiip! when I heard footsteps crunching in the leaf mulch a split second before a voiced bellowed, “It’s all poison oak over here.” By the sound of it, the person must have been only a few yards away behind the dense undergrowth.
Crouched in a kneeling position in a black hat, olive drab t-shirt and khaki colored pants, I was well concealed, but totally blew my cover screwing around with the zipper, which I was not at all happy about. And I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard anybody coming sooner.
The steps marched off in the opposite direction. I knew there were at least two people, though I hadn’t seen anybody, just heard them close by. Real close. For the next ten minutes I sat listening as the crunchy-sounding footsteps came and went. They would get louder then fade away and then suddenly sound again. Twice I caught a glimpse of a guy with a bag stomping around in the woods foraging and I heard voices several times.
At one point, as I was crouching surrounded by a patch of chanterelles, I clearly saw a guy walking toward me in the forest about 30 yards away or so and thought the game was up. I couldn’t move to hide behind anything without making noise in the crispy leaf mulch. The guy was moving toward me, moved behind a small thicket and then I lost him and it went quiet for a little while. A minute or two later the steps sounded again and eventually faded away for good.
I’ve been picking at this spot for many years and have never seen sign of anybody else around. I’m not sure, but I have a hard time believing they didn’t see me or at the very least hear me zipping my bag closed. Hopefully they found and saw nothing and won’t return next season to plunder the spot.