by Dara Wagner
I love wild mushrooms. I love the variety of shape, size and color. I love searching for them. I love coming upon them by surprise. I love photographing them.
This was not always the case. Before I began my photography practice, mushrooms came from the store to be eaten. They were white or brown and round. You chopped them or used them whole. Period.
Now… oh, now! They are the magnificent, magical, elusive subjects of field and forest.
Once I discovered how diverse, beautiful and fascinating mushrooms and lichen are I just had to find out more. This is where Travis Furlanic of Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tours comes in. WWMT strives to educate people in the fine art of mushroom foraging. While there are many cultures where knowledge of medicinal and edible mushrooms is commonplace, North America is not one of them. But that is changing with the help of people like Travis, who goes above and beyond to share his knowledge and love of mushrooms with all who are interested.
We met at the Muk Café next door to Mukilteo Coffee Roasters on South Whidbey Island. I was surprised at the rather obscure, out of the way location. How could a coffee shop attract customer’s way back here in the woods, behind a commercial building? Imagine my delight as I stepped into a gorgeous little restaurant filled with laughing and chatting people. Obviously, Muk Café is worth finding.
Tour regulars, who had gathered early for breakfast and excited talk of the upcoming mushroom season, were quick to greet us and explain the routine. Get some coffee (some of the best I’ve had, BTW!) then meet on the patio.
Travis’s presentation was packed with information. Not only did he discuss edible vs non-edible and where to find them, but also the life cycle, body parts, reproduction, elevation and habitat, seasonality and every other detail one could want to know about local mushrooms. We all received a booklet of information as well as being able to view the large, detailed photos Travis used to illustrate his talk.
Then it was off to hunt mushrooms!
Of course, everyone was keen to find edibles and the regulars had brought baskets in eager anticipation. Oyster mushrooms were fabulously plentiful, big, plump and yummy looking.
Medicinal turkey tail was also in abundance. We learned to tell the true from the false and the old from the new.
While I’m certainly interested in eating mushrooms, my real passion in photographing them. I was not disappointed! Several species of pink mushrooms were located,
As well as yellow witches jelly…
And a variety of other species.
If you’re interested to learn more about mushrooms you can’t go wrong with Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tours. You’ll learn a lot, have a great time, and I can’t stress enough what good company you will be in.
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Travis hosts tours 8 times per year, spring through fall. See the website for current dates and rates.
WHEN YOU GO: If you’re coming from the mainland check the ferry schedule in advance.
The Mukilteo / Clinton ferry is a quick 20 minute passage but there are sometimes backups during the tourist season so plan accordingly. Wear appropriate footwear, you will be tramping through natural areas and trails can be muddy. Bring a basket if you want to collect edibles, mushrooms don’t fare as well in bags. Drinking water is always a plus.
PARKING: Locations may vary from week to week, but generally parking is ample.
ACCESSIBILITY: Again, locations vary but generally Travis chooses sites easily accessible to anyone able to walk a forest path. If you have concerns contact Travis in advance.ALSO SEE: If your tour includes meeting at the Muk Café, definitely get there early for breakfast. Beyond that, you may want to plan on making a day – or weekend – of Whidbey. There is so much to do on the island you couldn’t possibly see it all. My favorites include historic Coupeville, local Penn Cove mussels, Double Bluff Beach and spectacular Deception Pass.