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Published: August 14th 2017
The Fairy Tale
The small world beneath our feet
"All mushrooms are edible, but some only once in a lifetime."
On the southern edge of the Great Plains of Sunday Lake at the headwaters of a small tributary that feeds the mighty Cunningham River, I crawled on my hands and knees on the soggy ground searching for mushrooms. More specifically, I was looking for particular varieties of the Hebeloma mushroom in the Hymenogastraceae family…
My cold hands rummaged through the gnarly roots of the willows, the twisted stems of the blooming bistorta, and the bowing bell-flowers of the nodding saxifrage. My nose faced the ground, inhaling the fragrance of moist Bryam Moss… My eyes were fixed, sweeping back and forth over a tangle of lichen… I was searching…
“Is that one? Is that a Hebeloma?”
At first I didn't know what I was looking for, but Henry, a mycologist (mushroom-ologist) showed me.
“They’re small and browny-coloured, they smell like hot chocolate and have remnants of a veil that briefly covered their gills.” He said in his clear, descriptive tone.
“Oh, those. Yep OK.” I replied, in light-hearted sarcasm.
Of course, I still had only the vaguest idea of what I was looking for…
“They’re quite dark on the underside.” Continued Henry.
An erroneous 'Shroom.
A Cortinarius perhaps?
“Is this one?” I asked!
“No, that’s a Cortinarius.”
I continued searching through the water-logged meadow.
“What about this?” I excitedly piped.
“No that’s an Inocybe.”
After a little while, I figured it out. I could recognize the Hebeloma genus fairly easily among the other ‘shrooms in the delightful little fairy-tale beneath me.
Henry was collecting very specific types of mushrooms for his specialized work. It was very interesting to be involved for a small part of his high-latitude, circumpolar, fungi-scavenger-hunt.
I will never look at mushrooms the same way again… Sorel
We drove our ATVs deep into the interior of Somerset Island and made our way to Inukshuk Lake, a high plateau body of water surrounded by low lying, barren hillsides. The sky was an ever-moving blanket of grey, and the air temperature was hovering around freezing as the scene went from bleak to bleaker. After several hours of driving, we made it to the Char-filled lake and started to fish. Within minutes, we had all caught fish! Fishing in these rarely-visited regions is phenomenal.
Close by is a canyon with
several small rapids and falls. As we gained elevation, Emilie found a patch of Oxyria (Mountain Sorel) a tasty, tundra treat that grows in the parched gravelly hillsides. She picked a lot of the leaves and stored them in her pocket. We scrambled down a slope and made our way back to the lake and our ATVs. Emilie reached into her pocket and took out a great big handful of Sorel and offered some to me. I rarely say no to a tundra delight.
I took several leaves of this sweet tasting plant…
Then, I dropped to my knees and choked and spat as a severe burning sensation smacked me in the mouth. I moved to the water edge and splashed water on my face and mouth, Emilie was next to me doing the same thing.
“What the heck! What happened!” I asked as Emilie tried to talk.
“There was something in my pocket” She squeaked.
She removed her jacket, and several other layers as they were covered in a sticky substance.
“What is this?” She asked me. But she knew the answer immediately, just as I did”
We sat by the water
panting with our mouths open for quite some time as we washed off the rest of the ruptured canister of bear-spray from Emilie’s clothes…
There were tears in our eyes from the capsaicin (capsicum) and from laughter. Water doesn’t wash off the oil based capsaicin solution, so we soaked a tea towel in milk and used that instead… It worked slowly… Our faces tingled for quite some time afterwards… And we still had three hours of ATV driving to get back to camp.
Spicy! That stuff is nasty! Some of our clothes had to be destroyed...
Incidentally, we also found mushrooms in a small canyon near Inukshuk Lake. We are converted - mushrooms are awesome!
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