Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Second Growth; On the Bones of the Elders

When looking at stumps my intrigue is both the forms and the story. New, fresh stumps are quite boring, but given time and decay and overgrowth they become fascinating.

Tree roots drape over stumps and flow into the earth, mimicking  the curves of their ancestors. The new and the old, the variety of textures, patinas of mosses, lichens and fungi, and the very slow motion change, meet my eyes as individual and collective beauties.

The notch in a stump, where a logger inserted a springboard to stand on as he wielded his chainsaw, and a hollow log laying where it fell because it needed to be out of the way but wasn't marketable, speak of loggers who handled dangerous work; who's clothes filled with wood chips which stuck to their sweat.

The politics of logging have rattled through Southeast Alaska for many decades, at times causing major economic earthquakes. This post is not a judgement of what is right or wrong on the subject, just observations for your contemplation. It is visual history of great trees that stood for hundreds of years, people who wanted to make a decent living for their families, seedlings finding opportunity to use the nutrients of their predecessors, the trees' struggle to stabilize themselves as their initial food source wastes out from under them, and the amazing growth of trees in this temperate rainforest.

I welcome your constructive comments. Click on the images to enlarge them.

The top of this stump is eight feet across. The thick second growth is called 'dog hair.' Forests here reseed themselves quickly and thickly, and the second growth is often thinned to allow faster growth for the remaining trees.

With sticks in my hair from a day (or two) in the woods,

Alaska Beachcomber

Other foresty posts: A Short Walk in the Forest, Forest Bridges

More on logging in Alaska: Logging Mental Health Land in Southeast Alaska, Logging in  Alaska; Falling a Big Spruce

Forest Bridges

After the most amazingly sunny and beautiful summer in Southeast Alaska, the fall rains are replenishing the rainforest. Moss eagerly soaks up water like a sponge, muskeg ponds fill, forest soil becomes wet and heavy again, and the excess runs into thousands of streams and creeks. My sweetheart and I walk through the forest, stepping over brooks, jumping a small stream, and finding a bridge to cross a creek.  

The one above is unusually easy; straight, level, limbless, with moss for traction. Moss can be slippery, but bare, wet, slightly rotten wood is like walking on an oil covered pipe.  This bridge is low and the creek is the right depth. If I fall in then I just stand up and  walk my cold, embarrassed self out of the creek and out of the woods. Haven't had to, yet.

Nearby muskegs and logs in the stream release tannins, turning the water tea-colored. It is not harmful. 

The log bridges are welcoming access to more of the forest, making secret trails to the best fishing holes and roads for wildlife and people. They are temporary; an opening in time between the stream undercutting a great tree and its reclamation by seedlings, fungi, microbes, and gravity.

My sweetie and I have been walking bridges while mushroom hunting lately, and it makes me think about the connections. I've also had mushrooms on the brain for weeks now.

The mushroom is just the reproductive part of the fungus, like an apple is to a tree. There's a whole lot going on with the fungus underneath.

The love of my life walks a bridge with young trees growing out of it.

The forest is full of bridges that we can't see. Trees live as much or more in the soil as in the air, and they have intricate relationships with other organisms there.  Humans have known for a long time that some fungi trade nutrients with trees in a mutualistic mycorrhyzal relationship. In a very simplified explanation, the fungal mycelium give the tree rootlets minerals and water, and the tree gives the fungus sugars. A tree may form partnerships with one hundred different fungi at one time.

The fungus forms a network of mycelium throughout the forest floor and in decaying wood and leaf litter. 

Threads of mycelium on a log where the bark had fallen off.

When Kate Mohatt was in Wrangell giving a talk on mushrooms, she mentioned that research is showing that mycelium can facilitate communication between trees. She gave an example of a tree being attacked by an insect. That information can be sent via the mycelium to other trees so that they would be notified to start producing chemicals to repel the insects.  An intra-forest cellular network. Forest 911 hotlines.  Underground bridges. A forest as one organism made up of many.

This network is everywhere in the Tongass National Forest. Peel the rotten bark back from a log and there are the hairlike strands of mycelium. The mushroom sprouting out of the ground is a sign of the organism living beneath our feet. An organism that makes a living mining and selling the minerals and water, and then being paid in carbohydrates. Does it charge for being a messenger also? Or is the communication self-preservation? If I were a fungus and spruce beetles threatened my livelihood I would try to get the word out.

Moments of quiet reverence in the forest help me see small parts of the network:

   Roots of trees interwoven with each other to make the entire stand more windfirm in the shallow soil.   

   Branches reaching for sunlight, filling gaps and giving squirrels sky bridges.

   Silky filaments of spider webs connecting a berry bush to a devil's club leaf so that both feel the passing of a deer breaking the connection.

Through it all there is the dendriform pattern of the creek that I just walked over branching into the brooks and rivulets that feed it, and those in turn being fed by today's drizzle in this temperate rainforest.

Wishing you beautiful connections in your day, 

Alaska Beachcomber

Winter Chanterelle. Edible Mushrooms in Southeast Alaska

Today my sweetheart and I drove to five different places on Wrangell Island and walked in the forest looking for edible mushrooms. We found a few hedgehogs and three golden chanterelles that were looking pretty old and waterlogged from the rainy weather. Mostly we found winter chanterelles.

When other edible fungi are fading, the winter chanterelles still fill the mushroom basket.  

Winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformus

Winter chanterelles are also called yellow foot or funnel chanterelles. Real mycologists call them Craterellus tubaeformis. Older books might have them listed as Cantharellus tubaeformis.  The names change as research marches forward.

This dainty mushroom makes up for its small size by being widespread and available from late summer into early winter. It likes the coniferous forests of Southeast Alaska, and I find it in old growth and second growth.

 Yellow foot or Winter Chanterelle

Yellow foot or Winter Chanterelle

Winter chanterelles can be a boring light brown all over, or may be orangish-brown, or have a yellow stalk and brown to dark brown cap. The cap is rolled under at first, then flattens out, and then becomes trumpet shaped as the mushroom matures.

The underside of the cap is usually light tan to ivory. Look for the distinctive chanterelle ridges under the cap. They branch like veins.

The stipe may be tan or yellow, and is hollow. As you can see in the photos, it can appear round or flattened, straight or dancing out of the earth. No, this is not a professional description, and I hope that you do not solely use the information here for mushroom identification. There are good books available, and I will list several at the end of this post.

When the ridges are wrinkled and the edges of the cap are flimsy and breaking, or mushy, then the mushroom is too old to harvest for food. If it looks so yucky that you wouldn't buy it in the grocery store then just leave it in the forest.

Winter chanterelles are not quite as tasty as the golden chanterelle, but they are pretty good. It takes a bunch of them to make a side dish for several people. This small fungi shrinks quite a bit when cooked. That frypan full might be a cupful when they are done.  

I have dried winter chanterelles and then added them to soup and stew to add something special to winter meals. Pop them into the dehydrator, and then once they are dry put them into a canning jar with the lid on tight. Once I lucked out and had warm day with a light breeze to lay winter chanterelles out on a sheet in the morning. They were dry by late afternoon!

Winter Chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis

Here are a few great mushroom books:

"Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest" by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati

"Mushrooms Demystified" by David Arora

"All That the Rain Promises, and More..."  by David Arora

In the rainy fall forests of Southeast Alaska the winter chanterelles are a touch of sunshine. May they bring a smile to you when you see them.

Alaska Beachcomber

More posts on mushrooms in Southeast Alaska: Golden Chanterelle, Hedgehogs, Edible Mushroom Walk in Wrangell

More on subsistence food and medicine in Southeast Alaska: