I started reading voraciously in the 5th grade. Once a month in grade school we were allowed to fill out a book order form with our No. 2 pencils and then wait most impatiently for the new books to arrive a few weeks later. Some of my favorite books are from that era. “My Side of the Mountain”, by Jean Craighead George, is one of them. It’s a story about Sam who escapes to the woods from the big city and learns how to live off the land with his pet Peregrine Falcon – Frightful! A perfect, children’s fantasy book with a happy ending, but it inspired me to learn woodsman-ship and outdoor survival skills. In fact, my Grandfather had a beautiful farm in the Catskills which is where I imagined Sam’s adventures took place and where many of mine started.
With lots of practice it wasn’t long before I learned how to “noodle” trout in the summer’s creek pools, how to make a leaf pot for boiling water to cook my crayfish, how to collect acorns or pine nuts, and what other plants were edible through the different seasons. I longed for my own falcon but had to settle for a parrot that we named Max.
All mostly grownup now, I’m still an avid outdoorsman and immensely enjoy primitive camping in secluded places. I still actively forage and have, in just the last few years, added edible mushrooms to my camping and hunting forays. It’s a real life treasure hunt. My K-Pak folding kayak allows me not only greater access to hard to reach places but opportunities to forage many plants and mushrooms that prefer wetland environments.
Some of my favorite more secluded areas that I frequent are in parks that are only accessible by water. Places in the Uwharrie National Forest by lake or river, and the Smokey Mountain National Park via Fontana Lake, just to name a few.
As for plants, there are many. Cattails, blueberries, persimmons, paw paw, nettles, smilax, arrowhead, fiddleheads, marsh marigold (do not eat raw), and even bamboo shoots plus many others all grow near the water’s edge. As you would guess, many mushrooms also prefer wetter environments.
Here in the Southern Appalachians you can find many of these plants but also a wonderful assortment of wild mushrooms. One of the most sought after mushrooms are morels, which flush in the spring. They are hard to find but worth the effort! Or it could be the other way around: does all the effort required make finding them worthwhile? Chanterelles start to flush as the weather gets a little warmer. These are also wonderful mushrooms and they come in a few varieties. Our favorites are the Black Trumpets, which can be crazy hard to see. They blend right in with the leaf litter they grow through. You can have a few between your feet, look up, and then back down, and have trouble seeing them again. They have a wonderful fruity smell and flavor. The Golden Chanterelles are plentiful, easier to find, and taste wonderful. We can find them all summer long here in NC. Their smaller cousins, the bright red cinnabar chanterelle, is usually very close by and will add flavor and color to your breakfast omelet. Oyster mushrooms are plentiful year round here in NC.
All of these mushrooms and many others can be found in creek and river bottoms that a K-Pak folding kayak helps make accessible. If you decide to take up foraging, be 100% sure of your find before consuming it. There are many good books and clubs to help guide you as you start out. The old saying “if in doubt, throw it out” is one you can live by!