Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alaska redux

(photo by Rita Bates)

I don't really know what to say and I'm not often speechless. Before we left the lower 48, Michael said this would be a life changing adventure and he was right.

I always resent coming back to real life from a wonderful trip, but this time it's worse than ever. New York City is the anti-Alaska, far too full of people, noise, litter, and general crap. Out there, in the bush, there was nothing between us and the world (except a tent at night). The raw immediacy of life was intoxicating and I want more. I'm no fool. I know I couldn't live like that all the time. But I also know I'm going back for more.

Until I get my thoughts together more eloquently, here are some images to outline the story. More to follow.

Departure from Fairbanks to Bettles; this was the big plane. It held the pilot plus 6 people and gear.

Ours is the red canoe.

Grizzly tracks at the first night's campsite.

Bear proof food containers are courtesy of the National Parks Service. The night's menu included lemon pudding (upper left) and seafood (clams, shrimp, octopus) vindaloo over brown rice w/zucchini & sun dried tomatoes.

Plentiful driftwood made campfires easy. This photo was taken at 11:30 pm. It never got dark.

Gunsight Mountain (left)

These wolf tracks were near our tent when we woke up in the morning. They were not there when we went to bed at night.

We are so small.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

mushroom season is early this year...

I was just about to declare this the Summer of the Bolete (and I still might) but first I have to show you my most recent harvest.

Last weekend I found the first small black trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides) a full month earlier than usual. I gave our guests the spiel about how our black trumpets never got very big, maybe for nutritional reasons, I wasn't sure, blah blah blah, and we ate the little buggers in several incarnations.

I checked back this afternoon to find MUCH larger trumpets. So exciting. I may have even shouted out something ridiculous like hot diggity dog. (Mushrooms cause me to lose all dignity.) What exactly made a liar out of me, I'm not sure, but I'm certainly not complaining. Perhaps the recent, generous rains, perhaps the lack of mowing, perhaps the mushroom goddess wanted to give me a little something special knowing I'll be gone for 2 weeks in Alaska.

This delicious mushroom, with no poisonous look alikes, is one of several to be featured in my upcoming edible yard book, and since I wasn't expecting them quite so early (and our next formal photo shoot isn't scheduled for 3 weeks) I thought I'd better take a few photos. Rob Cardillo is the photographer for this book, and watching him work has been an education. His images are superb not only because they are well composed and perfectly lit, with depth of field carefully chosen to illustrate his point, but also because he insists each image must tell a story.

Bearing that in mind, I positioned the mushrooms in the moss

then tried another angle with a bit of moss on the plate.

You see, black trumpets almost always grow in conjunction with some kind of moss. Spray pesticides on your lawn to kill the moss and there's no way you'll find any black trumpets there.

And now for the boletes. I'm not great with bolete i.d. but I do know there are none that will kill you and that by following a few simple rules, you can probably avoid stomach upset: no yellow, orange, or red pored boletes that bruise blue, no orange capped Leccinum species.

Last weekend we canoed over to the swamp (practicing for Alaska) and I was thrilled to find painted suillus (Suillus pictus), one of the easiest boletes to identify.

They grow exclusively with white pines, have velvety caps, a veil, and a stalk marked with scabers, not netting.

Later that same day I found Boletus variipes in the front yard.

B. variipes is a close relative of B. edulis aka the king mushroom. So close that most people treat it as such. This one has white netting (reticulation) on the top part of the stalk. I needed a magnifying glass to see it. The flavor is said to intensify when dried, as does that of the black trumpet. We ate some fresh, and the rest went into the dehydrator.

Later this afternoon, when the sun gets lower in the sky, we'll take the canoe back over to the swamp to look for more suillus[es?]. You know how greedy I am.

Heading for Alaska on Wednesday, back on 7/26. I'll have no computer or cell phone and wouldn't be able to get service anyway. That's how it is when you're north of the arctic circle floating down the John River. Stories to follow.