Buster and I went for a walk in the woods this morning. It had rained, and I always try to get out and see what's popping up, especially after a rain. Buster's mostly interested in what animals visited recently, of course, while I tend toward the mushrooms.

 

I remembered walking much the same way almost two years ago, in October of 2009,  through the old Norway Spruce plantation along the south of the property, next to Dunham's hayfield, where the remnants of the fence row still include a few big old hardwood trees. As always I was looking for any of the great edible mushrooms that occur in this area naturally and that might be good candidates for cultivation, or just to eat.


Over the three or four years I had been actively searching, I had found quite a number of edible species on the property, like Chicken-of-the-woods, 

Buster and a Chicken


King Boletes, Blewitts, Shaggy Parasol,


Shaggy Parasol



Hericium americanum,
 

Hericium americanum



Honey Mushrooms,

Honey Mushrooms



Velvet Foot,

Velvet Foot, also known as Enoki



Abortive Entolomas, Pheasant's Back,

Pheasant's Back, also known as Dryad's Saddle



Fawns, Platterfuls,

Platterful Mushroom



and of course Oysters.

Tree or Pearl Oyster Mushrooms



Just a month earlier I had found and cultured an oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) that would become Hantana Pearl. I didn't know then how well that one would turn out.

 

 

On the whole I considered myself very lucky. But I still wanted to find the queen of the autumn edible mushrooms here, the Hen-of-the-Woods, Grifola frondosa.

 

As I walked I started arguing with myself. My pessimistic side said I should give it up. I had looked for several years without success. We have no oak trees, the Hen's favorite. I knew virtually every big dead or dying hardwood on the property and repeatedly had checked them all. The time had come to give up hope of finding it here. I'd find it somewhere in the neighborhood, eventually, but had no reason to think I would ever find one right here, growing wild on our property. You just can't force these things; wishing won't make it so.

 

My hopeful side had pretty much succumbed to this onslaught of pessimism when I noticed, almost at eye level, a small, shredded mushroom, precariously balanced on a dead branch. Someone, probably a red squirrel, had sat there and enjoyed a little snack, and left the scraps dangling incongruously in mid-air. 


Suspended Scraps

 

Then my eyes shifted focus to the ground a few feet beyond the suspended scraps to a curious, lumpy grayish-brown object: one of several huge Hen outcroppings at the base of a sickly old white ash tree.


The Flock of Hens


I would understand if you thought I made this story up, but it really happened. For a while I couldn't believe it myself. It was not just Hen-of-the-Woods, but the biggest cluster of Hens I had ever seen.

I do not consider what happened anything but a delightful coincidence. I don't think I had a premonition, nor do I think the Hantana Pixies read my mind and cooked up a special October Surprise for me. I'm a pretty hard-core skeptic.  But it still feels like a miracle, something that couldn't just result from natural processes - even though I truly, deeply believe it did. My instinctive tendency toward magical thinking stirs.

 

When things don't go well, and I feel down and wonder if I'm crazy trying to build a business the way I am, I let myself indulge in a little magical thinking. I think of the Hens, and the other mushroom volunteers, especially Hantana Pearl, as the farm's way of telling me it wants me here, to do what I'm doing. It doesn't make any sense, really. But it helps me get up in the morning.

 Hen Close-up