The disappearing world of the ‘shroom pickers…


Well, I think that should be “The disappearing ‘shroom pickers” really.

Because mushroom picking is the only thing that still remains from humankind’s ancient history. It’s the last remnant of the nomad life still remaining in the world, aside of the real nomads in places like Mongolia, the Sahara desert etc.  The last time where this kind of camaraderie existed, the gold mines, died out years ago….the freedom, independence and all the rest that comes bagged with this kind of life.

I’m fortunate in living in BC, Canada where a lot of the mushroom hunting goes on. Some time ago, I ventured out to the Charlotte Islands myself, or to give them their real name, Haida Gwaii…..mushroom hunting was the least thing on my mind at that time….I just wanted to get away from the rush-rush life of the city, and a trip to a far away place such as the Charlottes was too good to give up! Pity my wife, who ‘volunteered’ to stay at home!

It’s a long way away, and getting to the place all depends on how urgent your visit is. You can fly there from Vancouver via AirCanada which drops you off at Sandspit, or you could take the BC Ferry from Prince Rupert to Skidegate.

I had plenty of time on my hands, so I decided to take the more scenic and laid-back route, driving from the mainland to Port Hardy on Vancouver island, and thence the BC Ferry to Price Rupert as above.

The Haida Gwaii are an archipelago of 138 islands, 80 miles off the coast of northern BC and most of them are uninhabited, the native peoples having been moved forcibly when Canada first became populated by the white man.

Anyway, my idea was to travel alone and just camp by myself whenever the opportunity arose, but a chance encounter in a drinking place changed all that. nevertheless, I was still able to go it alone afterwards.

I met a guy in the bar who started small talk etc and very soon the topic of “where are you going…” came up, both from my side and his. I told him what I was planning to do, and he told me that he was there to pick ‘shrooms.

That intrigued me, as I’d never met anyone in person who’d done so, and we got talking further. He saw that I was interested, but I could sense a wariness about what he was telling me…he steadfastly refused to talk about where he  would be going, who with or when. And he was quite open about his secrecy, too. “Their places are as sacred to ‘shroom pickers just as the Vatican is to Catholics!” he said!

I asked him if he was going in his own. He replied that some of the pickers work alone, but he works with a gang, whom he’d be happy to introduce me to if I wanted….but he warned me that they were a rough n tough bunch and don’t take too easily to meeting strangers!

The next day, I met him again at the same bar, we had a few drinks and he said he was going to drive over to where the rest of his friends were camped and I could come with him. The camp was about a 30 minute drive away, in a quiet forested area just off a dirt road. Sure enough, when we arrived and I got out of the pickup, the few people who weren’t in their tents all suddenly stopped doing whatever they were doing…and started staring at us…well, not us, but ME!

My friend Jon winked at me and said “…told you so…”, relating to me what he’d said about strangers in camp etc. It was late afternoon by the time we finished talking and telling our own stories, so Jon asked if I wanted to stay with them overnight or a few days, which I jumped at….I was not going to give up this golden opportunity easily, I tell you!

During the next few days, I met and talked to, it seemed, a whole cross-section of people……from a group of Chinese who kept themselves to themselves, only mixing with the rest of the people if they needed to, a single mother with her 4 children, some Hispanics who couldn’t speak a word of english but were the happiest people on earth, judging by the smiles when they met me, a native Indian guy who’d been picking mushrooms for coming up to 15 years, an office worker who, like me, had become fed up with the rat-race and had taken to mushroom picking because “it paid the bills and let him be with the eagles and the wolves..”, a student who wanted to make some cash, two russian guys who were as inscrutable as they come, and many more such colorful characters.

I got talking the office worker, seeing as he had the same ideas as myself. I asked him why he gave up what was a very comfortable life, to live in the wilds. I knew what he’d say, but what the heck. And sure enough, his answer was text-book.

He explained that he’d been working in administration for over 20 years, and in that time, all he could see was that he was working himself to death….it was the same boring pattern that I escaped from myself….work, eat, sleep, work, eat sleep, work, eat, sleep….ad infinitum.

Here in the wilds, he said, there were no deadlines….no boss to answer to, no office politics, nobody to please but himself. He still had an apartment in downtown Vancouver which was paid for, so there was no problem with paying a mortgage or anything, but he’d rented it out as he was away for most of the time.

And he also confirmed that mushroom pickers were a very secretive bunch indeed…and rightly so, as the crop was very elusive at the best of times and one could make substantial money once a site was found.

Bc was not the only place in Canada where mushrooms could be picked in large numbers….when the crop in this area was depleted, they’d head over to the East coast, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan or the Yukon.

I also learnt that there some varieties of mushroom that could be grown artificially, but some could not, only becoming available in the right conditions in the wild.

I spent a total of 3 days in the mushroom pickers’ camp and in that time everyone had become friendly with me, knowing that I was a person who loved the wilderness just like them!




We are slowly losing our wildlife..but also the need to experience it…

All of us, whether we are hikers or just armchair travellers, we all know that the world’s wildlife is in danger.

The threats posed by constant pressures from farming, exploitation, mineral resources etc are erasing the world’s wild places at an alarming rate…I’m sure we have all heard that most famous phrase sometime in our lives that goes “an area the size a 10 football pitches disappears from our jungles every day…”?

But, hang on a minute…there is an even bigger threat to our wild places…it comes from the thing you are reading this article from…yes, your PC, laptop or smartphone.

Increasingly, naturalists, hikers, walkers, climbers are all concerned that wildlife is losing the battle not only with human intervention, but from the virtual world.

What does that mean? Well, people are basically so cut off from their environment by iPads, smartphones, computers and other technological gadgets which demand attention within, excluding that which is without, ie outside.

So much so that many now believe that the loss of ecosystems and environments is paralleled by the expansion of the digital ecosystem.

And the main reason for this can be partly blamed on the unavoidable consequence of a society liberated from laboring on the land like we used to. It is indeed a squeeze on time spent with nature.

One example of this change in our lives is a simple one which we fail to notice….there are no children running around in the woods, like we all used to during our childhood….I and my friends were continually outside, either in the local parks, patches of woodland, farms or other open spaces. Now, farms have suddenly become dangerous environments….even a farmer’s own children don’t play on their father’s farm, for fear of an accident happening and their father being castigated by the health and safety mob.

A fearfully high number of highly-strung people have taken over the local authorities the world over, brewing up a compelling broth that is fed to innocent citizens, feeding their minds with untrue propaganda that vehicular traffic, dangers-of-strangers, tree-climbing, netting of fish or tadpoles in little streams are pastimes all fraught with horrendous dangers.

In my opinion, wildlife will inevitably decline if we carry on becoming oblivious of it like we are…..why? Because when we are oblivious to wildlife, the other factors I mentioned, like exploitation, cut and burn of forests etc, is still going on, and so obviously, the wildlife in those areas will decline.

A very tough situation we are in at the moment, and as always, the citizens are virtually powerless to do anything about it.





A story to warm your hearts!

This story when I first came across it, really had me wondering what we humans think of ourselves.

We think we are the best thing in the universe since sliced bread…and more.

But if we were in the same position as the tigress I am going to tell you about, would we do the same?

I sincerely doubt it!

Apparently a tigress in a Californian zoo gave birth to 3 cubs, who died unfortunatelt due to being born prematurely.

Soon after, the mother went into a kind of a depression, the shock of losing all her cubs….she stopped eating and became increaisngly withdrawn.

The keepers noticed this and became very worried for her….

Read the rest of the story here…..



Following on from yesterday’s article about native peoples…

Not long ago, I was in a remote area of BC….the Queen Charlottes, sometimes known by their real name as Haida Gwaii.

I was alone, as I mostly always am when on hikes.

The Haida Gwaii area is almost pristine, even these days, and there are huge tracts of land that are still virgin, although rather difficult to get to.

I try to go there as often as I can…the isolation from the circus that is life is truly magical there, as it is in all such places elsewhere in the world.

It’s very difficult to put into words how one feels in such places….I can only describe it as recuperative, inspiring t be in a virgin place as that…..making you think that this is what the world must have been like before the multitudes and hordes invaded the lands and pillaged everything.

Inspiring and recuperative it may well be, but for me, and this is my personal feeling, not a crusade or anything I am on….the place cries out, reeks of….something missing.

And for me, I feel the missing link, that elusive feeling I get there, is the native peoples.

Somehow, don’t please ask me how or what… seems that their not being there….having been forced out….seems to have left a gaping void….an invisible, gaping chasm, which manifests itself into your mind, making you almost cry with sadness at the slashing of the ties the natives had to this area.

As ever, myself and my fellow-men, call us whites, north americans, whatever…..we are charged with depopulating the indigenous Haida peoples from their lands here. They say some 90% of the Haida died from something as simple as smallpox and the common flu bug, something the Haida never had any immunity to, and which our people brought into their lands when we decided to invade.

The survivors were removed forcibly from these happy, peaceful hunting grounds and placed in just 2 villages where they live to this day.

It is, for me, a feeling of incompleteness, if there is such a word….a land barren of an essential part of it’s ecosystem shall we say….and I feel the land itself, somehow manifesting a terrible sadness at this loss….a bit like how a parent, myself being one, would feel if, for some reason or other…..I were to return home one day and find all my family gone…just disappeared into thin air, never to return…..a sick, deep grief and sadness….I don’t know…maybe it’s just me.

But let’s talk about happier things….in places like the Haida Gwaii, we can come closer than we ever will be on tis planet, to being what creation has deigned us to be…..untrammaled spirits made to enjoy the timeless stillness of that same creation itself… if that creative force wants to tell us…wants to show us, through places like these, that that is where it comes from, where it resides..and ultimately where it wants us to be.

Could it possibly be the reason why we so love the wilderness, the deserted coasts, where we can be and just look out towards the nothingness, the nowhere where creation itself resides? And could it be why native legends and so-called folklore is full of tales imploring us not to destroy that wilderness? Because to destroy it, like we have done already, is to destroy the abode of the force that created it and all of us, too.

There too, I had one of the most profound experiences of coincidence, synchronicity…call it what you will.

I had always looked up into the sky and many times seen a solitary eagle or perhaps a number of them, circling or soaring on the thermals from below….I had often wondered if it could be possible to catch an eagle feather in it’s fall from it’s owner, before it touched the ground….could that be possible? I asked a Haida friend of mine about this, and he in turn put the question to an elder he knew.

My friend came back many days later, with a big smile on his face, and when I asked him what he was so happy about, he told me that if I were to get hold of even a single feather from an eagle, a feather that hadn’t fallen and touched the Earth, caught in mid-air in other words, that it would a very, very fortuitous thing indeed to happen, and such a gift is classed as priceless by the Haida. This he was told by the elder.

And that is exactly what happened a few months later, when I was in the Haida Gwaii again, having forgotten all about the feathers and the eagles.

I just happened to be walking on the beach, when by pure chance perhaps, or pure synchronicity…take your pick….I looked up into the sky, and saw not one, not two, but more than 7 or 8 eagles circling around very low…I’d say not more than 150 to 200 feet in the air, and for some odd reason, there were eagle feathers falling from them!

Of course, I wasted no time in running underneath them as fast as I could, with my shirt ripped off my back and held out like a basket, catching as many feathers as possible. That night I called my Haida friend and told him what had happened, and he said we would both take those feathers to the elder and ask him what this all meant.

A few days later, we were with the Haida elder…to just be with such a person is to experience peace and quiet….a result of the peace itself that emanated from him.

He told me that I was indeed very fortunate….that this was a very great occurrence, which meant that the gods were pleased with what I had been thinking, and that great experiences would envelop me, great happiness would follow me wherever I went. And the feathers were a tangible proof from the gods…a kind of confirmation of this.

Well, being a western-minded agnostic, it was a little hard to swallow, but I respected what the elder told us, and anyway, his words of wisdom both calmed me and made me feel happier anyway!


Is this the very last plea from a dying people, possibly?


In 2003, the US government’s men came for the horses.

They used a helicopter to stampede them, to frighten them….some were trampled, some gave birth prematurely, some just ran and ran till they died of exhaustion.

The government people were armed, so resistance was futile.

At the end of the day, 500 horses were sold off to a local American farmer. Later, 50  carcasses were found dumped…these had died of starvation.



The horses belonged to Carrie Dann, a Shoshone grandmother. She doesn’t like talking about it, aside of saying that Indians love horses. That is all she says.

That last round up of the horses was just one of four military style operations set up by the longest running land disputes in the history of America.



For more than 30 years, Carrie and her late sister Mary, have fought the USA government for Shoshone rights to 60m acres of land, around Nevada and neighboring states.

Unfortunately, the dispute has hardly scratched the American conscience.


However, at one point, the United Nations demanded that the US government halt all actions against the Shoshone and find a solution acceptable to them and in accordance with their rights.

To date, nothing has been done that can be seen as a move in the right direction.

A very, very sad period for the Shoshone…and perhaps other indigenous peoples of America. When will these peoples, the real Americans, see justice? It doesn’t look likely…..

Read more about it here



The magic of the Black Robin story!

It’s rare to hear a story about animal species which has become almost extinct, but through careful management and untold care from selfless volunteers, has bounced back and is alive and kicking again!

Such is the tale of the Black Robin.

First of all, the black robin is not related to our favorite birds we see mainly in the snow of winter, the two species of robin we are all used to, red breast et-al, in the USA and Europe….these two robins are actually members of the chat and thrush family.

The black robin does share it’s looks with the red robin….it sometimes has red feathers itself, has a large head and long, thin legs, big eyes and similar pouncing walk.

The black robin can now only be seen on the Chatham Islands, a small group of islands off New Zealand. At one time, these birds were common all over the islands, but underwent a devastating decline in around the 1900s, when humans from the West first arrived there with their sheep, cats, dogs, rats and agricultural methods that involved burning the forests to clear the land for planting.

And sure enough, by the late 1900s, the birds were confined to a tiny 12 acres on an island called Little Mangere.

Much later, in the 1970s, conservationists realised just how serious a position the black robin was in….there were just 7 pairs of birds left….five males and two females.

At that time, there was nothing to be done aside of taking drastic action in order to save the birds from extinction….it was decided to move all 7 birds to a larger island nearby, Mangere Island.

As easy as it sounds, it turned out to be a helluva task..the birds first had to be caught safely, put in small cages, then transported by the team of conservationists themselves on their backs, descending down ropes attached to the top of 600 ft sheer cliffs, then transported by boat to the other island.

Unfortunately, by 1979, the figure of 7 birds had dwindled to 5.

The whole story of the black robin has one bird to thank for it’s present existence, one called Old Blue, a name she inherited from the blue plastic ring on her leg fitted in 1972. At the time when the robins were moved to another island, Old Blue was already well advanced in age compared to the normal life span of these birds. In total, Old Blue lived for 13 years, twice the average life for such a bird, it is told, and an extraordinary lifespan for any bird per se.

Old Blue was 9 years old before she started breeding successfully…she produced 3 broods a year sometimes, mainly due to the very intensive and exceptional care given by her human support team.

But it still was not an easy task. Initially, the black robin eggs were placed in Chatham greygones nests, and then later on into nests belonging to tomtits which were natives of the islands….the problem was that the tomtits nested 12 miles away, so it was a very delicate task transferring the half-incubated eggs from one nest to another one, so far away.

After removing eggs from the nesting black robins, the scientists had to destroy the nests, to prevent the robins nesting again and laying more eggs which  could not be cared for as much as the first batch. The team say this was one of the most stressful times of the whole project….destroying the nest of one of the world’s most rarest bird, with no guarantee of success.

And of course, if the project failed, these few men would be forever blamed by the world for making the birds extinct, a very heavy burden indeed.

Old Blue was last seen on South East Island on December 13th 1983.

And yet without Old Blue’s tenacity, of changing her mate several times, then breeding in her old age, the species would not have survived.

Every black robin alive today is descended from Old Blue….

In 1990 there were 116 birds….in 2007 there were 180.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if just such a team could have taken on other species that are now extinct, such as the Dodo, the Tasmanian devil and many more….