In Our Own Backyard...Shootin' the 'shrooms

The cell phone rang as we were driving down the backwoods country road. It was one of our daughters calling, and after a few words of greeting, she asked what we were doing.

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The cell phone rang as we were driving down the backwoods country road. It was one of our daughters calling, and after a few words of greeting, she asked what we were doing.

"I'm in the truck along Pioneer Road," Ken replied. "Wendy's out shooting mushrooms."

The pause on the other end continued for fully five seconds before there came the guarded reply.


I could almost imagine her conjuring up images of me rambling through the woods with a .22, blasting the tops off mushrooms as I went.


"Yeah, we were out hiking and came across these amazing yellow mushrooms," explained Ken. "Wendy didn't have her camera along, so we decided to drive back home and get it so she could take pictures of them."

There came almost an audible sigh of relief on the other end of the line.

Late summer has brought with it an amazing crop of mushrooms of all shapes and sizes this year. Anyone who is a friend of mine on Facebook will know that I went slightly crazy a couple of weeks ago when I was hiking on the North Shore and later posted 30-some photos, most of them of mushrooms - yellow ones, red ones, orange ones, tan ones, brown ones, golden ones. Mushrooms growing on logs, mushrooms clinging to trees, mushrooms with giant bites taken out of them, mushrooms growing upside down and mushrooms with "fairy bathtubs" in the middle of them.

It was exciting to come across so much color and variety in the late-August landscape, when summer's bright green foliage has begun to turn yellow and brown and the colorful wildflowers of summer have given way to the homogenous shades of fall. I had never seen so many kinds of mushrooms before - in fact, I don't think I realized so many different kinds even existed in northern Minnesota. It was a photographer's paradise!

At one point, I decided I'd taken enough photos of mushrooms from the same overhead angle so decided it would be novel to shoot a few from "field mouse" level, to show the marvelous gills beneath the caps of the mushrooms. And so, I carefully laid down on my stomach alongside the trail and fired away. Much to my embarrassment, along came a couple of young hikers who stopped dead in their tracks in alarm. I leaped up and gave them a sheepish grin.

"Don't mind me," I told them. "I'm just shooting photos of mushrooms."

They gave me a tolerant grin and hastily made their retreat down the trail.

As it turned out, I ended up with more photos of mushrooms than anything else on the entire trip to Grand Marais!


So inundated was I with mushroom photos that when Ken and I decided to hike down a country road not far from our house last weekend, I never even considered bringing my camera. I should have known better. As soon as I climbed out of the truck, I spotted a bright splash of yellow-orange a few feet into the woods. It was a group of some of the most beautiful mushrooms I'd ever seen. They had polka dots all over their caps and looked like something straight out of a  Smurf Village.

I later learned they were not anything near so fanciful that. They're known as "fly agaric" or "Amanita muscaria," and they are the hallucinatory mushroom that supposedly was responsible for sending Alice on her trip through Wonderland! They were stunning, however, and I was already kicking myself for not bringing my camera.

A mile or two later, we came across an even more spectacular stand of them nearly buried in the pine trees. The centerpiece was one huge orange mushroom nearly a foot tall! That was when I decided we simply had to hike back to the truck and go home for the camera. And it wasn't long after that when our daughter called and asked what we were up to….

In my excitement that day, I shot a staggering 45 photos of the showy mushrooms - though I haven't had the heart to post them just yet on Facebook, fearing my "friends" might think I've finally gone off the deep end.

As it happened, Ken and I decided to take a hike in Jay Cooke State Park on Labor Day afternoon. We decided to stop at The Streetcar in Carlton to grab a little lunch first. While there, I ran into retired Judge Dale Wolf and his family. We chatted a bit and then sat down to order lunch. After we were finished, I walked up to say goodbye to Dale.

"Have a great hike," he said. "And be sure to look for mushrooms!”


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