Saturday the winds whipped up a storm that brought pounding rain to Western Washington state. Some trees fell and others just lost a few branches. Debris flew at 65 to 70 miles an hour into people, cars and buildings causing minor injuries and property damage. A friend and I stood outside guiding traffic away from a downed wire and watched the sky for the tell-tale signs of blue flashes that said that another transformer was blown, another neighborhood losing their power. It wasn’t the first rain of the season, but still it had a certain energy about it. It wasn’t the most powerful storm or even the most dramatic, but it felt special somehow.
I arrived on Anderson Island the next day. Even as the ferry pulled up to the dock, I could see from the broken tree limbs near the shore that the island had been hit hard by the winds. As we drove up the road to my friend’s house, I couldn’t help but notice the road was littered with leaves and evergreen needles, small twigs and branches that had blown from the forest canopy above. As we pulled into the driveway I was a little shocked. The garden looked a bit wrecked: not the sleepy winter version of itself, but a wildly disturbed mess of plant matter and deer fencing and bits of storm drain that had pulled off the side of the house.
Whenever I’m here, my friend kindly lets me play in their garden. It’s a lovely space on just a fraction of the property. Usually, I like to rake leaves off the small bit of grass into the compost heap, pick a few salal berries if they are in season, tend to the weeds a bit, and refill the bird feeders. It’s not a lot of work, and it doesn’t do much for the garden, but it does a lot for my soul to be out there doing it. My friend might think I do it to help them, or maybe they know the truth that it’s a completely selfish act.
This time there is so much to do, and my host is away at work for most of the time that I’m here, so I just tidied up this and that, and then sat in a chair to watch to the birds and listen to the frog that has moved in under a bush in the backyard. There’s a big puddle back there, a mini pond that formed in the rains of the last week or so.
One can only sit so long, though, and despite my full day of work to be done, I won’t let my time on the island slide by without a good dose of forest medicine. So, I decided to go for a walk.
Walking here is always a meditation. Listen to the sound of my breath and try to keep it quiet. Listen to the sound of my footsteps and silence them. Reach out with all my senses to see who else is on the path with me: birds, slugs, coyotes, rabbits. Once I even met a bear here, though that’s pretty rare. (I asked my friend, “How would a bear get all the way to the island?” “They swim!” I still have trouble with the picture in my head of a bear swimming from island to island in the Salish Sea.
Every little thing distracts me as I walk. The sound of a bird alert warning others of my presence. Another bird alert farther away that might be about my friend’s cat who has been known to track me on my hikes. My attention shifts from the forest canopy down to the floor. Oh! And what’s this?
A few yards onward and I see a small hole around an inch deep in the dark soil. Someone’s been rooting at the ground, maybe with their nose. There are no claw marks near the hole. But there is a piece of something that looks like half a white mushroom cap next to the hole. There is another hole nearby, and I bend down to investigate. This one is not as deep, and I can see the white top of something mushroom-like at the bottom of it. I push the soil away on either side and find a ball of white fungus that reminds me of the button mushrooms you see in the grocery store, only . A truffle? Indeed. That appears to be what I’ve found.
If I’d had my wits about me, perhaps I would have taken a picture. Or if I knew for sure it was good eating, I might have brought it home for food. This time I did neither, instead leaving it on the surface of the ground with a prayer to the Earth that I be forgiven for disturbing this fruit of the ground, and that some animal might feast on it as a gift without the trouble of having to dig it up themselves.
Before my walk was over I found many more mushrooms. A large colony of big, half eaten amanitas that I imagine made some deer quite trippy. More little brown mushrooms of various sizes and descriptions. And then this one caught my eye.
A strange thing, for sure. This mushroom looked like a wet, decaying leaf at first. But it’s not, of course. Just another gift from the rain to the forest.