The Mighty Chanterelle and the Gnarly Oak

Santa Barbara County Chanterelle

“In an oak forest alone, more than a hundred different species of fungi may be present in different parts of the roots of the same tree. From the oak’s point of view, this is a very practical arrangement.”

Peter Wohlleben, “The Secret Life of Trees”

Chanterelle mushrooms are the fruit or reproductive structures of a fungus that grows on the roots of living trees.

The fungus and trees coexist in a symbiotic relationship, both benefiting by gaining sustenance from each other that they could not otherwise get on their own, alone.

In Santa Barbara County chanterelles typically partner with oak trees and the fungus plays an essential role in the health of a forest.

The better the fungal connection is the healthier the oaks are. As fungi disappear, the trees are weakened.

Most plants, from grasses to scrub to trees, grow with fungi in such interdependent relationships and plants in league with fungi contain much greater levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous than those plants without fungal partners.

Michael Phillips, in his award winning book about growing fruit trees, “The Holistic Orchard,” spends a significant amount of time explaining the critical importance of encouraging and tending what he calls the “fungal duff” zone around the base of trees.

Phillips advises feeding the soil fungi through regular spray applications of neem oil and liquid fish, as well as the routine application of ramial wood chips from deciduous trees (rather than evergreen) that are dumped in irregular haphazard patches around fruit trees throughout the year.

When reading Phillips the fruit grower comes to view the tender care of the soil and all its tiny organisms as being just as important as, or part and parcel of, the loving care of the tree itself. To feed and strengthen the fungi is to feed and strengthen the tree.

The healthier and more diverse the community of fungi are in the rhizosphere or root zone of an orchard, the healthier the trees are and the better their ability to defend against insect attacks and disease and to consistently produce abundant, tasty fruit.

When the chanterelle fungus taps into the oak’s roots, the tree gets plugged in to the expansive subterranean network established by the fungus through its mass of root-like hyphae called mycelium.

These minuscule root-like filaments spread through the soil in an extremely fine meshed webbing, soaking up nutrients and moisture otherwise out of reach or unavailable to the much larger tree roots. 

The amount of these fungal filaments in healthy forest soil is hard if not impossible to imagine.

In a single teaspoon of soil there are many miles of hyphae.

In a meter diameter of soil, about the space between two spread arms, more than eight trillion end branches can occur in the mycelium.

The mycelium greatly increases the surface area of the oak tree’s own root system, but it also serves as a conduit for nutrient exchange between trees.

Within a well-connected forest, stronger trees aid weaker or sickly neighboring trees or juveniles and saplings in their shadows by transferring vital nutrients and water through the fungal network.

A valley oak in the Santa Ynez Valley.

An oak tree does not just gain food and drink from the helpful chanterelle, however.

The symbiotic connection also enables the tree to communicate with other trees through the subterranean fungal network that functions as a natural sort of fiber optic system.

When mycelium run through the soil they connect with other mycelium growing from the roots of other nearby trees, thus linking one tree to another to another.

These fungal networks can be vast and large swaths of a forest may be connected in this manner.

A specimen of honey fungus found in Switzerland is thought to be around 1,000 years old and covers 120 acres.

In Oregon, one fungus is thought to be at least 2,400 years old and covers  some 2,000 acres and is three miles wide; it’s  said to be the largest organism on the planet and can be spotted from an airplane.

Trees communicate through these fungal networks using chemical signals as well as electrical impulses.

These impulses can travel a third of an inch per second to notify neighboring trees about potential threats like insects or relate information about drought.

In the case of an insect attack, each oak tree connected to the network receives news of an imminent threat from trees already being eaten by bugs, and each tree then responds to the message defensively by boosting their output of toxic and bitter tasting tannins into their bark and leaves.

Lone trees not plugged into the network not only lack access to the communal plumbing that supplies additional food and water, but are also incommunicado and completely unaware of what’s happening in the forest around them. Loners live much shorter lives than community members, as a result.

That’s some mighty gnarly stuff!

When in the forest next time around, ponder what it is you may be walking atop. There’s a lot going on under your feet.

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San Ysidro Tank

A cave’s eye view of San Ysidro Canyon in the Santa Ynez Mountains; the Thomas Fire burn scar and initial regrowth evident.

Total rainfall county-wide for Santa Barbara measures in at 95% of normal so far this season. With the month of March still to come, which typically offers the potential for substantial rainfall, we should see that total rise well beyond the 100% level. This would be only the second time in the last eight years that we have received a full dose of rainfall if it happens.

San Ysidro Tank is a vernal pond that sits high atop a rocky ridge hundreds of feet above the creek, just behind San Ysidro Ranch, at the mouth of the canyon on the west side. In drought years it does not fill up and sometimes remains dry through several seasons.

The Tank will not be found on any mainstream maps, which hints at how little is conveyed on such otherwise admirable and necessary informative works of orientation and place that forest gadabouts depend on. There is a lot more to the forest than mere contour lines, major watercourses, names and campsites. This site is one of them; a place I stumbled upon myself years ago when out exploring off trail.

The canyon right now is aroar with the voice of San Ysidro Creek. The noise seems novel and amazing after so many years of droughty silence, the flow of water alluring and mesmerizing after a long absence.

Sitting and listening and watching the flow rushing from the Santa Ynez Mountains, entertained and amused and soothed by finally a good drenching of the forest, I wondered what a desert dweller must think when seeing a river or deep pools and large waterfalls for the first time. Such an experience must be like gazing over the vastness of the sea for the first time. It must be incredible. I don’t ever recall in my life being so appreciative of the forest having what is merely just a normal amount of water in it. Cheers!

San Ysidro Canyon a few days ago looking fairly well cleaned out a year after the Montecito Flash Flood that killed at least 21 people.

A similar view of San Ysidro Canyon in 2017 prior to the flash flood, when it was full of vegetal growth. This view here shows a point in the creek seen about center frame in the photo above, just as the creek bends leftward around the bedrock outcrop. The reason, specifically, for the close cropped view here was because any wider of an angle and all one could see was a riparian thicket, all of which was swept out and fed to the sea several miles down canyon.

The tank.

Exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands National Park can be enjoyed.

The alcove with a window view of the coast. A body can sit inside the shallow cave and peer out the window.

Looking south eastward over the pool toward Carpinteria.

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Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A typical road on the Isle of Skye.

I’m listening to Dylan. And driving fast in a small, or wee as the locals would say, car.

“Throw on the dirt, pile on the dust”

Husbands leaving wives. They’re out to roam. Jack woke up early. Got the hell out of home. She wouldn’t change it. Even if she could.

“You know what they say? They say it’s all good.”

Loch na cuilce (Map Link)

It’s a wee two lane road without shoulders. In many places it narrows to single track with occasional wide outs to give way to oncoming traffic.

By way of a pamphlet I read at a pub, I take it the folks here on the bucolic and sparsely populated Isle of Skye take pride in paving over as little land as possible. This is readily evident no matter where one drives. The roads are puny and thin. There are never shoulders.

Some places the roadbed has subsided on the constantly rain saturated soil and shifted off camber.

A local in a pickup truck speeds past, overtaking me in the opposing lane on the outside along a corner now sloping at the wrong angle. It looks like it wouldn’t take much for the truck to roll. But he takes the corner smoothly nonetheless, the truck pitching back and forth with the force.

In the States I have found I can typically take corners about ten miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit.

Here on Skye it seems the posted limit runs about ten kliks an hour too fast for comfort. I’m driving fast, but the locals roll faster. Much faster.

Bearreraig Bay (Map Link). A small stone cottage lies in ruins in the grass down yonder there.

The ruins sit beside a burn or a small creek flowing into the sea.

Despite the narrow lanes and frequent pulling aside to allow passing, everybody is exceptionally polite and easy going. They all wave or tap the horn in thanks.

Though the locals must surely get annoyed with tourists like me once in awhile.

Stopping along the shoulderless road, pulled as far as possible into the weeds. I threw open a car door at one point just as a man was easing by with little room to spare.

He slammed on his breaks as I hopped out onto the road only to come face to face with an old, frizzy white-haired, ruddy-faced angry Scotsman dropping f-bombs on me.

“For ***** sake, man!” he growled in his thick accent. Oops.

Master James Elliott walking down to Brother’s Point to hunt dino prints. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

Same site as noted above. The footprints are found on the beige slab of stone jutting into the sea.

Here on the island layers of sedimentary rock from the Jurassic epoch have been exposed along the seashore. Rock of this particular type rich in dinosaur fossils can only be seen in a handful of locations in all the world.

In a few seashore locations on Skye footprints from several different kinds of dinosaurs have been found, but can only be seen on low tide and are otherwise under water.

Some of the footprints, Brontosaurus in particular, appear to be mere roundish, water filled depressions on the seaweed-covered stone flats. They resemble elephant prints.

When standing back a few yards one can clearly see the trail left by a wandering Brontosaur. There is no mistaking it once you know what to look for. It’s easy to see the sequence of dinosaur footfalls as they wandered what was once a tidal mudflat or shallow lagoon some 170 million years ago.

In other places the fossil prints are remarkably distinct considering their age and location, constantly worn by the wash of the Atlantic Ocean.

A Sauropod print on Brothers’ Point. Note how relatively well preserved the toe prints are for being 170 million years old. To the left one can see the mark left by a claw.

The claw mark left behind as the sauropod’s foot sucked back out of the mud when walking.

The footprint showing its surroundings.

One particular site can typically only been seen in winter when big storms and rough seas sweep the beach clear of loose sediment. Throughout the rest of the year the prints are buried in sand.

A stone’s throw from this site, just above the beach and at the foot of stone cliffs, archaeological surveys tell of am ancient human habitation site some 10,000 years old.

I presume those early humans must have seen the prints, so keen in observation they had to have been and so in tune were they with the natural world in order to survive. The prints are incredibly distinct. One wonders what the ancient humans that lived nearby thought of the prints. The prints show in winter across a now fossilized rippled mudflat of reddish brown hue.

The tracks and the mudstone flat were not visible at the time of my visit. Both were covered by today’s sand which was, interestingly enough, also rippled from the same hydrophysical play that was at work there over 100 million years earlier. A lot has changed, but then again much remains the same. The same rippled design floated overhead in the wind whipped clouds of an otherwise sunny day.

A tridactyl foot print at Brother’s Point. Look for the triangle shape with a fourth point on one side, there at my toe.

The trail down to the rocky headland Rubha nam Brathairean or Brothers’ Point begins from the paved road as a short gravel driveway leading to several cottages perched on the steep grassy hillside overlooking the ragged shoreline below.

Just beyond the first cottage the actual footpath begins. The path leads through a sheep pasture and falls steeply to the rocky beach.

“I’m afraid this isn’t a place for small children,” the lady said in a firm, sincere voice with what appeared to be her husband in tow. “They’ll never make it. It’s quite dangerous.”

I didn’t even slow my stride nor give her warning worthy consideration.

“Thanks. We’ll be fine. We’re a rugged bunch,” I said kindly with a smile and a friendly wave. I kept going, leading our five party clan.

I’m used it to it by now. I’ve been seasoned through the years by many odd looks and frequent warnings about places I take my kids being too dangerous for one reason or another. The cliffs. The rattlesnakes. The ticks. The lions. The poison oak. The whatever. Had I heeded all the warnings, my children would be a lot poorer for it and much less capable.

So onward we all walked eager to find the prehistoric treasure we were after. I asked a younger couple on their way off the beach if they’d found the prints. They said just a few small ones but nothing big. They didn’t find anything, I figured by the sound of it. They just didn’t want to admit it. My hope shriveled a bit.

But after just a few minutes on the exposed sheet of bedrock I found one of several of the best preserved prints. It was the first dinosaur footprint I had ever seen first hand. Sweet!

Another dinosaur footprint site holding Brontosaurus tracks.

I had previously captured a screen shot from a short video posted online by a major world-wide news agency, which had announced for the first time ever the world class find just two months before I arrived on Skye.

Using landmarks briefly shown in the video clip, I was able to pinpoint the site and proceeded from there to scan the area, walking systematically back and forth until I found the first print.

If I’m a pirate, then this is my type of treasure hunting. I may be genetically incapable of asking for directions and I certainly cannot bring myself to ask for location information on these sorts of sites. That would be a gross violation of etiquette. But it also takes something valuable away from the whole experience.

And so I gather cryptic clues from the Internet and various print publications and have fun piecing them together. Finding what I’m after without asking for directions or, God forbid, GPS coordinates is itself alone hugely rewarding and makes the experience far more enjoyable.

That is all.

Brontosaurus print.

Same Brontosaurus print sequence as detailed above showing here four distinct prints filled as puddles on low tide, the three animals Elliott in the background.

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Wild Oyster Mushrooms and Reading the Nuances of Nature

Oysters on a standing dead cottonwood tree in the Santa Ynez Mountains. You can see where the deceased tree’s canopy had filled in the now empty sky above, the other trees wrapping around it.

“The hunter-gatherer lives on what is conceptually the ‘fruit of the earth.'”

—Max Oelschlaeger, “The Idea of Wilderness”

With winter rains sprout the fruit of the forest, mushrooms. The fruiting bodies of wood fungus, they come in a wide range of flavors from the earthy and savory chanterelle to the meaty oyster to the lobstery hericium to the sweetish honey mushroom and more. Wild mushrooms are the most delectable of all the forest’s eyeless edibles, I’d say.

Something profound happens when a human enters the woods. When a person begins to look intensely and discerningly at the land by way of hunting, either that of animals or plants and mushrooms, something magical happens. (The necessary prerequisite, of course, is that one must take an active interest in keen observation, and walk among the wild things slow enough to be conscious of what surrounds them, and be an open and willing recipient of what the forest offers.)

In these experiences the patient observer begins to see land as Aldo Leopold described it. The observer gazes upon the land as a complex living community, “land the collective organism,” rather than a mere landscape scene that is beautiful.

The observer’s penetrating gaze, an ocular spear cast into the land targeting the finest detail within the intricate weave of a living tapestry, the threads intertwined and so tightly woven that no one fiber can be harmed or removed from the others without altering the big picture all combine to create, that no individual may be damaged without harming the integrity and health of the whole. This is land as a living organism. 

The tourist looks. The traveler sees. The naturophilic student of the forest understands what she sees when looking. She gazes upon the land not as a -scape nor as scenery. The dynamic complexity of Earth’s living systems and its flora and fauna are not reduced to a mere object of art stripped of all meaning other than the most superficial, as if it’s a painting on a wall. It is not a landscape. The land is not a Bierstadt. She is not distracted by superficial finicky and shifty notions of beauty. The land is sublime not for its mere physical appearance, but for its ecology. The land is beautiful because it is alive.

What is lost about John Muir on many people, I think, is that he found the mountains and forests “sublime” not for their superficial beauty so much as his understanding of what underlies that physical appearance. He intuitively understood the basic principle of ecology before the word existed, that all life is connected.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe,” Muir wrote. He knew the land as Leopold later described it.

In this manner the naturophile does not gaze upon the land through her heart but her brain. And it is in the awareness and understanding of intimate details that real and true love is born.

“Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it,” Leopold wrote.

Because you don’t abuse what you love and you can’t love what you don’t understand.

‘The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and to enjoy what he understands,” Leopold wrote.

Read the land. Read it like a book. Don’t just read the cover and think it looks pretty. Read every page there within, the details, the footnotes, and know the whole story.

In A Sand County Almanac (1949), Leopold wrote of reading pine trees like books on his Wisconsin farm. The “spaces between the successive whorls of branches. . .are an autobiography that he who walks with trees may read at will.” The longer the space between each annual whorl of branches, Leopold advised, the more rain had fallen the previous year. The shortest spaces reflected drier years and droughts.

“But we are all here for the wild hunt. The true one. The oldest one of all.”

—Adam Nevill, “The Ritual”

In “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan writes about his first experience hunting wild pigs in California. He describes falling into a state of intense focus while everything else in the world vanished from his mind but the collective organism of the forest before him. He describes his ears and eyes “tuning in—everything.” He writes of his otherwise nearsighted vision that, “The sharpness of focus and depth of field was uncanny.” He writes that he felt as if he’d “entered nature through a new door” and for once “was not a spectator but a full participant in the life of the forest.” Later his friend, an avid hunter whom knew the feeling, described his experience as “hunter’s eye.”

I know this phenomenon well. When out in the woods alone I often fall into a trance wherein all senses are exceptionally sharp and responsive and my focus on the forest is laser-like in its intensity. During these states of heightened consciousness, distractions, like a voice in the canyon or scared deer charging away, can rip me free of that trance and it takes a few minutes of staring back at the forest for it to return, as if I’m waiting for my eyes to slowly refocus so that my brain too may refocus.

“The tourist achieves no such immersion or connection; all he sees is a landscape,” Pollan writes. “The tourist remains a spectator to a scene.” The naturophile is not a spectator, but reads the book of nature as an active participant and is fully engaged and deeply immersed in the story.

In the Santa Ynez Mountains, when the coast live oak trees drop bumper crops of acorns during a mast year, the naturophile expects to have competition from mice and rats nibbling and ruining good mushrooms the first year after, and to suffer a horrendous season of ticks when foraging during the second year after the mast.

The tourist will look over the oak trees as a beautiful landscape. The traveler will see through the beauty to notice the unusual amount of acorns. But the naturophile sees the abundant acorns and understands that it will spur a boom in the rodent population which feeds on them, which in turn will lead to a spike in the tick population which feed on rodents.

To the tourist it may seem like magic that the naturophile can stand in an oak forest on a fall day and tell them that in two years the ticks in spring are going to be really bad. But once you’ve been introduced to that page in the storybook of nature it’s an obvious, quick observation.

Pollan quotes Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, whom in “Meditations On Hunting” describes what it’s like to perceive the forest through the hunter’s eye:

When one is hunting, the air has another, more exquisite feel as it glides over the skin or enters the lungs, the rocks acquire a more expressive physiognomy, and the vegetation becomes loaded with meaning. But all this is due to the fact that the hunter, while he advances or waits crouching, feels tied through the earth to the animal he pursues, whether the animal is in view, hidden, or absent.

. . .

The tourist sees broadly the great spaces, but his gaze glides, it seizes nothing, it does not perceive the role of each ingredient in the dynamic architecture of the countryside. Only the hunter, imitating the perpetual alertness of the wild animal, for whom everything is danger, sees everything and sees each thing functioning as facility or difficulty, as risk or protection.”

What a great description!—“The role of each ingredient in the dynamic architecture of the countryside.” Each thing in the forest, animate and inanimate, pregnant with meaning, tells the hunter something worth knowing and plays the role of a character in nature’s story. This is entirely lost on the casual looker.

Consider Paul Shepard’s description in “The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game” of the “rich knowledge of the hunter,” a true knower of wild things:

“. . .think of him as lean and muscular, lying on a sunny ridge amid tundra flowers, surveying a distant herd of fifty horses. He recognizes each individual by sex and age, by its movements, by its role. He sees the drift of the herd in relation to terrain, forage, and predators; rank-order relationships of individuals; subtle signs of sickness and infirmity; the daily round of herd life, feeding, drinking, resting. He compares the pattern of one herd to that of others. He learns their communications and signals, the nuances of seasonal rhythms in behavior, the effect of stress, aware of these in relation to the season and time of day. He is also listening. . .and all sound is voice.”

The nuances of nature and subtle signs are what the naturophilic student of the forest is after. All sound is voice and all voice tells the listener something worth knowing.

Shepard also quotes Jose Ortega y Gasset in a passage about how each element in the countryside informs the hunter.

“[The hunter] will perceive all his surroundings from the point of view of the animal, with the animal’s peculiar attention to detail. This is what I call being within the countryside. Only when we see it through the drama of the hunt can we absorb its particular richness. Articulated in that action which is a minor zoological tragedy, wind, light, temperature, ground contour, minerals, vegetation, all play a part; they are not simply there, as they are for the tourist or the botanist, but rather they function, they act.”

Through this sort of intense observation and personal and intimate experience the hunter is lead to a deep and complex understanding of the land, and a relationship with wildness that is impossible to achieve from the outside looking in or through brief and superficial brushes with wildlands. A person must be an active participant within the countryside.

I don’t think, however, that a person needs to kill animals to achieve this. One may still hunt animals without harming them or choose to participate in the other pillar of our evolution in gathering.

I’ve never hunted an animal to kill in my life, but when I walk in the woods I do so carefully as if in pursuit of a clever and wily creature. I try to take everything in, to absorb into my mind all factors in the natural equation before me and process their meaning individually and as a complex whole. To read the complex living organism that is the land and see what it tells me.

In this pursuit of keen perception the natural world has bloomed before my eyes through the years in ways I never expected, the flower still growing larger and expanding with each new experience out there, becoming ever more attractive and, in turn, so too does my appreciation grow and my desire to conserve and protect the wild. And that is the real point I am trying to make!

Stomping down the trail just to reach a destination—chasing waterfalls, bagging peaks, or to arrive at a campsite—the common hiker, while perhaps admiring superficial beauty along the way, may miss all of these subtleties and as a result their experience is less dimensional and far less rich.

This sort of destination hiker thinks in a narrow, linear fashion. The goal, on the other hand, is to think geometrically like Jason Bourne in Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller novels.

“You’re lacking,” Bourne tells a guy at gunpoint. “You can’t think geometrically.”

“What does that mean?,” the guy asks.

“Ponder it,” Bourne tells him.

Let us ponder it. Nature works geometrically through what we silly humans have decided to call ecology. Each point, that is each character or element in the forest, is tied to innumerable other points in an ever expanding net of interconnection. Think of a fishing net. In other words, Point A is not “hitched” only to Point B, which is then only “hitched” to Point C. To continue the analogy, think of a length of fishing line to illustrate the linear. Or better yet, click the two links above for a rough illustration of the point.

People ask what I do out there in the forest if not hiking to arrive at some destination, as if there is nothing of worth to be found in nature but end points noted on maps. I wish I could open their eyes and mind to all they are missing. This post is an attempt of sorts to achieve that. On the contrary, there is much more to behold than simple destinations. Destinations are least of the forest’s offerings. The very least. Meager, really. Crumbs.

Paul Shepard on the result of the careful observation of nature by our species through its evolution:

“What emerges from a million years of such study is much more than a practical knowledge for killing—it is a knowledge of the typical life cycle of each species, its details and peculiarities. This is natural history.

But a person must immerse themselves in nature to earn that knowledge. This requires participation. It is not enough to be a spectator on the sidelines. And you certainly will never earn it reading books. “I have a low opinion of books,” Muir wrote,

“They are but piles of stones set up to show coming travelers where other minds have been, or at best signal smokes to call attention. . .No amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to know these mountains. . .One day’s exposure to mountains is better than cartloads of books.”

You must get out there in the thick of it and dirty your hands. Ortega y Gasset would say with the blood of an animal you’ve skillfully hunted and respectfully killed, but I think a sweaty brow and soil under the nails from hunting mushrooms and foraging for wild edibles suffices just fine.

Once earned, a person will be able to stand and gaze over the land and read its many and various subtle signs and only then may they begin to understand something of the sublimity of the natural world.

My quarry for the day, a humble harvest of but a little that I found.

My favorite way to cook oyster mushrooms is to keep it simple: pan-fried in a cast iron skillet with a little avocado oil and a dash of pink salt to finish. Es todo no mas. 

Avocado oil has a high flash point and will not smoke and burn as easily as olive oil, which can taint the flavor of the mushroom.

Use a grill press or another smaller cast iron skillet to press the mushroom down firmly on the hot pan. As the ripply-edged mushroom heats through and begins to cook it will lose its stiffness, wilt and the whole fruit will eventually be pressed flat against the pan like a burger.

In this way you’ll be able to develop the crispy brown steak you’re after. It’s the crispy browning that makes it great. The trick is to fry it slowly on a medium to medium-high flame and give it time to develop that flavor. Too low of flame and you get slimy. Too hot and you get scorched.

These mushrooms don’t taste anything like oysters. They take their name from their growth habit or shape not flavor.

Plane Jane in appearance, but exceptionally tasty. Especially those curly crispy edges.

I’m big on personal responsibility, and so I don’t much see any reason for warning labels and so-called “trigger” warnings. But I suppose I should try to play the part of a responsible party and offer a warning.

If you eat the wrong mushroom you will die.


People in Santa Barbara have died from eating poisonous wild mushrooms.

You need to know what you are doing when eating wild mushrooms.

If you are looking in a book to see if you can or cannot eat the wild mushroom growing before you in the woods, then you do not know what you are doing!

I will leave it up to you the reader to figure out the rest.

Don’t come back and blame me if you die from eating a mushroom after reading this here lil’ ol’ weblog.

A Related Post On This Blog: 

Mastodon & Mammoth Sign: Reading Trees in the Santa Ynez Mountains

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The Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole

“Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on my map. But they became special by personal acquaintance. … I remembered what Ishmael had said in Moby-Dick about the island of Kokovoko: ‘It is not down in any map; true places never are.’”

Robert Macfarlane “Wild Places”

The Essence of Place

Our natural inheritance here in this neck of the woods may not include the largest or most spectacular of water parks. But nor have we such wants. We certainly have no need. We barely have water these days, but we get by just fine.

We appreciate each place for its own character. We do not measure our place by the standards of other places. “I—the royal we, you know. The editorial.”

We are humble in our desire. Allow us a small sandstone tub just large enough to dive into, to feel the wash of cool fresh water over our face on a warm day, to sink to the bottom with held breath and pinched eyes, to bob around. And we are happy.

For even the grandest of waterfalls and deepest, largest of pools may find it hard to compete with the affection for a small place in your home county.

Pinners. Scrawny drought-stricken coast live oak acorns in the fall of 2018. 

After seven years of scant rainfall and extreme drought—Santa Barbara arguably being hit hardest out of any county in California—finding pools that aren’t stagnant or moss-covered and still appealing enough to jump into has become increasingly hard to accomplish, if one finds water at all remaining in the watershed. Many places have dried up altogether. Many places have remained dry for years now.

And so one must put in more effort venturing farther and deeper afield where what little rain has fallen in recent years still manages to trickle out of the ground in sufficient volume to fill a few puddles worthy of attention.

My dad and uncle first stumbled upon this swimming hole over 50 years ago when out exploring the wilds of Santa Barbara County, a favorite family hobby.

They knew not what they might find that day so long ago, but went anyway with not so much as a hint from anybody that a cool emerald pool awaited them out there in the forest after a hot sweaty trek.

August 2018

On a hot summer day we sat poolside smoking Cuban cigars and listening to the blues, the two elders telling tales of meeting tobacco farmers in Cuba and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

They told of learning from the farmers how they dried and cured their leaves over the course of a couple of years; of visiting the drying sheds; of sitting in their humble homes; of chickens standing on kitchen tables beside makeshift wood-burning stoves; of a farmer withdrawing from under his straw mattress supple, golden-brown cured personal stash pressed between sheets of newspaper and hand-rolling cigars of exceptional quality for their indulgence.

These stories were those of travelers that went out to find for themselves lively experiences, not tourists having been led to trendy traps detailed in books and articles with explicit directions. That’s personal acquaintance. In that grows a deeper appreciation. It’s to love rather than merely like. And one begins to know something of the essence of true place.

Once upon a time many decades ago in a similar vein, these two adventurous travelers had set out and found for themselves this liquid gem we now enjoyed on a sunny summer afternoon, somewhere yonder deep within the wilds of Santa Barbara County.

It’s the old swimming hole. Where relaxation is found, fun had and memories made.

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