Birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), growing by its namesake.
My days pass by seamlessly, reflected in the gray clouds and in the fluidity of the seasons here on the coast of northern California. Seasonality is different here than where I grew up, the northeast, and different from my northern European-centric concept of it. In my mind there are supposed to be four distinct seasons and that simply isn’t true for this place. It has been all too easy to simply say that there are no seasons here which is patently false. When people ask me about how “autumn” is unfolding, I answer with something akin to the ambiguity of our seasons. “Gently,” I may answer or “Not at all,” if I fall back on my old conception of what autumn is supposed to be. While other places are getting cold and losing their leaves, here on the coast we are emerging from a dormant period and coming alive again. It is a time of year when the rains return, nourishing the earth, and softening a world hardened by drought.
The rain is lovely and a true reflection of the season. With the rain come the true harbingers of the season: salmon and mushrooms, and a return of Aleutian geese who fill the air with their high pitched calls. Salmon heed their own call, silent, ancient and insistent. It pushes them onward, along an arduous journey from ocean to estuary and on upstream to natal grounds, where they will spawn and die. Their bodies feed eagle, bear, stonefly, and riparian tree in an endless recycling of nutrient and form. Nothing wasted. Black bears take salmon carcasses into the forest, up to one hundred feet into the trees, to feed in peace and quiet, and end up feeding both themselves and the forest. As the bodies rot they provide these great temperate rainforests with a much needed influx of marine nutrients, feeding hemlock, huckleberry and hazel.
And underneath it all, an interconnecting network of thread-like mycelium, the real body of fungi that we seldom see and all too often ignore. Masses of branching threads break down nutrients, decompose plant material, and assist living plants with absorption of water and nutrients. The importance of fungi, mycelium and mycorrhizae in particular, cannot be overstated but is often overlooked. Then the rains come and all that they promise bears fruit in the myriad forms we call mushrooms. Some are colorful while others are drab, some garish while others subtle and hard to find, and some are edible while others are deadly. It is mushroom season here and almost everyone is talking about them, our fungal friends of the forest. I hear murmurings of “spots” and “luck”, often spoken in hushed and conspiratorial tones lest someone overhear. No one wants their secret foraging grounds to be revealed, after all. With the rains come a rainbow of fungal form, each responding in its own way to temperature and moisture, and each fruiting in its own place, in symbiosis with specific trees. What we think of as the mushroom is just a small window into the world of fungal form and function brought on by delicious fall rains.
While in other places people feel the shift in autumnal air temperature and think of snow and winter, I step outside here and feel the softness of a light rain on my face and neck. I think about all that the rain promises and more: swollen rivers, silver-sided salmon, and the fruiting bodies of an organism I cannot even see but that I delight in finding and bringing home. The rain promises a return to wholeness and I try to greet it with a wholeness of my own, one of grace and gratitude for all that rain provides.