Archive for January 2012 | Monthly archive page

In elementary school, I lived for recess, summer vacations, and weekends.  When else could I have the chance to go hiking, camping, and fool around in nature?  Free time presented opportunities to explore and have adventures in the forests and creeks around my home and allowed for family vacations to national parks and recreation areas.  However, as a former environmental educator, I am aware that there are plenty of today’s youth that are cut off from open spaces and wilderness.

In an age where computers and televisions are our primary source of entertainment, schools sequester children indoors during class time, and working adults are confined to cubicles and households, the natural world has become an auxiliary part of our lives.  Organizations such as the Children and Nature Network have identified that kids living in suburban and urban areas may suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”, which some researchers believe can lead to or exacerbate cases of ADHD, hyperactivity, creates higher levels stress, decreases creativity, and diminishes the formation of community.

Luckily, with the understanding that knowledge of our ecosystems and direct experience with the landscape makes for happy and healthy humans, many schools have been established within the last couple of decades that seek to educate children and their families about nature.  One of the longest running and most influential outdoor education organizations is NatureBridge, a non-profit founded by the Yosemite Institute in 1971.  With campuses in the Marin Headlands, Olympic National Park, Yosemite, and the Santa Monica Mountains, the school possesses over 40 years of experience with connecting youth to the greater outdoors by facilitating direct and powerful experiences that last for lifetimes.  The programs are student-centered, allowing the flow of the courses to be powered by the questions and curiosity of its pupils.  Flexible lesson plans focus on the ideas of interconnectedness, sense of place, and stewardship.  In addition to becoming familiar with the complex interplay between habitats and ecosystems, children learn the importance of diversity, how they depend upon nature for survival, and ways to take concrete action to care for the world in which they live.  Programs and events are specific to each campus, and are open to both schools and individuals.

For those interested in outdoor education close to home, take a look at San Luis Obispo County’s school programs through Camp KEEP and Rancho El Chorro.  The CREEC Network has a huge database for Californians seeking local organizations and schools.  Get your kids away from the video games and out into the wilderness!  Become acquainted with the beauty and magic of nature!

Wild chanterelle mushrooms

Someone you know may be a member of a secret society.  Shortly after a rain, clad in heavy slacks, long sleeves and sturdy shoes, they leave the comfort of their living rooms and televisions to hunt for gold in the oak forests of California.  What they seek cannot be melted into a ring or fashioned into a trophy, but certainly can be heated in a skillet and transformed into a miracle of culinary science.

Going alone or with clandestine companions, the locations of their wanderings are kept secret so as not to give away the position of their hauls.  They dodge poison oak, slog through mud, and scramble up steep slopes.  What these adventurers are tromping around the wilderness for is the enchanting, delectable chanterelle mushroom. Underneath the cap, pseudo-gills run all the way down the stipe, or stalk.  The emit a fruity, peppery fragrance that fills the air when cooked.  Extremely high in vitamin C, vitamin D and potassium, these delicacies formerly reserved for the tables of nobility are as healthy as they are flavorful.

Cantharellus cibarius, or the golden chanterelle, is a funnel shaped fungus that appears in veins or clusters across Europe, North America and Mexico.  They have also been found as far afield as Asia and Africa.  Popping up along amidst leaf litter and detritus of the forest floor, chanterelles have been discovered near birches, conifers, beeches, oaks and, occasionally among chaparral.  Here in San Luis Obispo, the positions of large crops of these little beauties are kept under wraps, as they can be sold at market for nearly ten dollars a pound.

However, with a little luck and the knowledge of an experienced mushroom hunter, you can capture some chanterelles of your own.  Take care to only pick mushrooms of which you are certain, and when in doubt, leave them in the ground.  It should be mentioned that there is a species known as the “false chanterelle”, and for beginner and amateur mycologists confusion is not worth the risk of slight gastric distress and embarrassment.

For help identifying and cooking the golden chanterelle amongst many other mushies, pick up a copy of All the Rain Promises and More by David Arora.  This guide is filled with excellent descriptions, photos, and stories from fungus fanatics.  Easily stored in a pocket or backpack, the little volume will inspire you to tromp about the backcountry in search of nature’s most fascinating organisms.  After sauteeing nearly fifteen pounds of a recent haul this season, you will definitely spot this hunter in the hills of San Luis Obispo scanning the logs and dirt for tasty morsels and objects of scientific curiosity.  See you on the trail!

FURTHER READING: For a superior guide to identifying wild mushrooms, check out Roger Philips’s Comprehensive Guide to Mushroom Identification, available from Amazon.

RELATED POSTS: To see what else can be done with fantastic fungus, be sure to take a look at our article on the Mushroom Death Suit.

Photo Credit: Wild Chanterelles

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