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!

😉

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.wholeearth.com/issue/2100/article/145/migrant.mushroomers

Talking about journal making…..

 

I always have a journal or a notebook with me wherever I go, whether it’s on a month long hike in the Yukon or a days walk around BC.

It helps me relax and muse on the places I went to or the feelings I had at the time. And sometimes my notes trigger off new ideas or new places to visit as well.

Recently, I was about to buy some handmade journals which contained photographs, writing, names, logos etc taken from magazines. I make journals like these all the time (you may have seen photos of the one I made here in my previous post).

But what I was told by a friend made me stop buying the journals, He said that nobody can use material which does not belong or was not created by himself in his own work, and then go on to sell it.

If the work you create using this material is for your own private use only, then apparently it’s fine. Well, thank god for that, I thought, as I plainly make journals like that, but only for myself!

Can any reader here please confirm what I heard is true or not? Are all those 1000s of sellers on Etsy  taking part in copyright infringements by using scraps of photos etc from magazines, books, newspapers etc?

 

Cold that put out my camp fire!

We all know that sometimes starting a camp fire can be a bit of a pig, especially if the timber you’re using is wet or damp.

But what I experienced once on a hike left me absolutely baffled.

I was hiking in an area way up north in the Yukon in the middle of a very cold spell indeed. You may say that is sheer foolery, putting yourself at such a risk, but, heck, wouldn’t life be one big boring episode if we didn’t take risks now and then….calculated risks?

So anyway, there I was, in an area of absolute wilderness, not a single person or habitation to be seen for many, many miles. And I was very tired indeed, cold and hungry, with the light fading fast.

I didn’t really have much of a choice but to seek out a suitable place to make camp, away from the high winds etc. Upon finding a spot, I stopped, took off my heavy backpack and immediately started erecting my tent, which fortunately was one which you can set up very quickly, no matter what the conditions.

But by the time I’d finished, the wind had stepped up a fair bit, and with it of course came the dreaded killer, windchill. My hands were frozen and I could hardly think clearly, a sure sign of possible hypothermia setting in.

Anyway, the tent was up, which was a major coup for me in those conditions…at least I had shelter! Next up was a fire. Luckily, I had collected some odd pieces of wood, twigs etc during my hike, which I’d wrapped in a plastic bag and tied to my rucksack, so at least the timber was dry.

I managed to get some kindling going, to which I added the timber pieces. And by this time, the wind had really got so damned cold, that my cheeks were hurting from the windchill, and I could even feel the hairs in my nose were frozen.

It’s then that I saw something I’ve never seen before. Sitting crouched in front of the fire, I noticed the timber had started to freeze…yes, really…I could clearly see the pieces of twig and larger branches beginning to turn white with a frosty covering! How could that happen, when the centre of the fire was still burning and giving off ample heat?

Cut a long story short, I sat there desperately trying to get the fire going as much as I could, but to no avail. The conditions were so harsh, that eventually all my material on the fire just became so damn cold, that the fire eventually petered out..absolutely unbelievable!

The night was saved by my stove, that I lit inside the tent and which thankfully worked just fine, and it was only then that I was able to make  some coffee and heat up some ready-to-eat food.

Otherwise, were it not for my tent and stove, I just don’t know what I would have done that night!

So the moral I learnt that night is this, no matter if you have the most advanced fire-making equipment with you, if it gets really cold, you can be in deep trouble, especially if you are in an isolated area, unless you are prepared for it like I was.

Take care….brrrrr!