My favourite way to start the day in summer is sitting on the deck of our log house in the boreal forest of the Northwest Territories, sipping a coffee, listening to the birds and watching the squirrels’ antics. Late in the season, the squirrels are continuously zipping up spruce trees with chunks of mushrooms as big as themselves, setting them on the outer reaches of the branches to dry and store for the winter.
At this time of year, there are a myriad of mushrooms to be found, especially after a rainfall. I do not pretend to know enough to eat any of them, but I love finding them in the forest and trying to identify them. The fruits of the mushroom which we see above ground are incredibly beautiful, with an infinite variety of form and colour. Their sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance contributes to their “magic.” Also interesting is that you can comb the same location repeatedly, and often find new varieties, as fruiting is very dependent on weather conditions.
On our Nahanni expeditions we commonly find mushrooms in alpine areas such as the Cirque of Unclimbables and at Virginia Falls. We regularly see squirrels scurrying along the portage trail with mushrooms in their mouths on late summer expeditions and I often wonder where they are stashing them (it is said that a squirrel does not necessarily remember where they hide food caches, but that they recognize a good hiding place when they see it). Luckily squirrels are immune to the toxins in mushrooms and can eat fungi that would make other animals (and humans) very ill!
If you’re keen to learn more, we bring a small library of field guides on all of our river journeys, for flora and fauna identification, local stories and history. Be sure to ask the guides on your next adventure—learning more about small components of the vast landscape can deepen your appreciation of it.