Last Wednesday I got an e-mail that resulted in me teaching the Saturday edition of the Smoky Mountain Field School class at Cataloochee listed as Edible & Poisonous Fungi of the Smokies. Dr.Coleman McCleneghan, who has taught the course for years had a schedule conflict. I accepted the task with some trepidation because as I’ve written before, she was my first mentor. In fact, my first training was Coleman’s class at Sugarlands on this side of the Smokies over 20 years ago.She is a wonderful teacher and excellent mycologist, so I was trying on some big shoes. So, I just made it a hands-on experience catering to the participants interests.
It was all outside, so I took a folding table and my pop-up shelter. For an introduction, I went out around home the day before and collected a variety of species (numerous Amanitas) to use when discussing various features to observe. After an hour we took off on Rough Creek Trail.Traveling slow, the hike evolved into a “collect it and take it to Whitey” and ask, “is it edible”, as opposed to hauling everything back and laying them out to be identified. This model resulted in a lot of peer interaction as they stayed in self-selected small groups. Today I sent the group a list of 45species from Roody’s book.that I identified for one or another of the group. There was one I knew was a Lepiota, but had to wait until I got home to my Roger Phillips book to decide it was Lepiota rubrotincta. If you think I’m wrong, let me know.
Back to the parking lot for lunch, I hauled out my tailgate grill and sautéed dried morels, black trumpets, lobsters, and some previously frozen chicken of the woods along with fresh grilled oysters. Halfway through lunch the sky darkened, and the shelter was put up. Rained hard for 20 minutes but we stayed dry.
The Field School allows instructors to sit in on other classes, and I was fortunate to have Esther Blakely join me. She runs Cataloochee Valley Tours, specializing in the valley’s Elk. It was a treat when a lone elk cow came wandering near us in the deep woods. Esther explained how one could tell that she was (1) ready to give birth or (2) near a bedded calf, so we backed off slowly as she gave us the eye.
The afternoon was spent near the Horse Camp, if you know Cataloochee well. It is a wet site in spots, and there were many different species including orange and yellow spindles (Clavulinopsis), and this beautiful purple Clavaria zellingeri.
All in all a good day.’
Yesterday I went out to see if the lobsters were up. Didn’t see any, but I did see a hump of pine needles that normally promises an emerging lobster. No lobster but my favorite forest friend, a box turtle.