Wrenzai Attends the Great Haiku Getaway

When my old friend the barred owl hooted her message to me from the crabapple tree, I was surprised and pleased to discover that I’d been invited to attend the Great Haiku Getaway in the woods beside the Great Water. I hadn’t ventured out to such an event for years and in fact had begun to grow moss between my toes. I tossed and turned that night over the decision, but as morning grew blue, as the sun rolled up into the sky and the robin chirruped pure as cherries, I donned my bamboo hat, coat, and sandals and set out East.

Bard (Barred) Owl Messenger

Bard (Barred) Owl Messenger

The journey was long. I wandered cross-country around the south end of the Great Mountains and then beyond, up the east side of the Great Water to a tiny hamlet in the woods known as Seabeck, in ancient times an elven timber station. The Main Hall stood wide and welcoming on the side of a hill beyond a silvery lagoon. The journey had taken me days and left me both exhausted and invigorated. I remembered how good it is to get out of my myrtle hut now and then. My fall crop of mushrooms could wait this time. As I crossed the lagoon these words came to me:

the old car bridge

Seabeck Conference Center

Seabeck Conference Center

What magic I sensed in the air as I arrived! I found many other hermits, mountain poets, and hut-dwellers in the Great Wooden Dining Hall at the midday meal, chattering about the tantalizing words and incantations known as haiku that the Great Party was to celebrate. Ah to mingle with others like me again! For so long it was just me and the chickadees, me and the old antlered bucks who stared up at me through the windows, me and the crows consoling each other as the world heats up near to burning—only the rare human visitor—for years.

Old Buddy Buck

My old buddy Buck

My counterparts wore rice-planting or wizards’ hats, had companions of ravens or crows, even a starling, perching upon their shoulders. Some wore coats of moss or woven cedar bark. Others smoked long thin pipes of incense or gesticulated in meaningful runes, reciting ancient haiku—or fresh ones, composed on the tongue, winging their way out of their mouths like hummingbirds or dragonflies. They’d arrived from all over the world. I was overwhelmed!


Soon we were off to what for me was my first haiku gathering, held in a Hall whose walls resounded with the profound but simple verses of the great and ancient haiku poets, of masters and disciples both. The chatter and gesticulations were hard to follow, so much was happening at once. Then four Masters gathered before us to discuss “haiku as poetry.” What delight I took in how seriously these great minds considered such tiny poems in the context of poetry and culture at large. I was mesmerized!

After a short break, I joined a large and enthusiastic group in the lower quarters to construct a book—to actually make a book in an hour! What fun it was to create a quality piece of workmanship in a matter of minutes wherein we were encouraged to inscribe our haiku. What fun measuring, cutting, and gluing as if we were Gutenberg’s apprentices—or the Beowulf monk himself! What pretty, useful, tiny tomes we conjured for later inspiration!

Then there were haiku quilts, thinking like an editor, a history of our venerable venue, each presentation more interesting, informative, and mind-dazzling than the last—which is to say a lot, because the first presentation was so intriguing and inspiring!

What energy and thoughts we took to dinner. Our haiku diners were a veritable galaxy of stars glinting with glee and reminiscences. And the food was delectable, not to mention endless, for those of us who’d worked up bottomless pits of haiku hunger.

Back in the hall, we celebrated a wonderful poet who’d recently left our world of haiku-ing (unless there’s a world where everything is haiku). Sad but all the more beautiful were her haiku in the aftermath of her existence. To be touched like that is to be touched deeply. Everyone sat up straight, with respect, interest riveted.

Soon we were deeply immersed in Chiyo-ni—of ancient times in a strange and wonderful country—and given a lesson in greeting with haiku in the ancient way. My lovely partner wrote this in greeting me (thank you, Ruth):

rainy night haiku

I was moved—to say the least. Then up we stood to receive Japanese candle lanterns so as to set out on a night ginko. We walked silently through the night and rain, listening to sounds we might ordinarily miss. With what strange, beautiful, and solemn attention we stepped through the pristine water, grass, and forest, bearing our long line of blue glowing lanterns, like fireflies in search of deeper experience. We were stilled to silence by the plash of rain and clothing rustling. I wrote

forest patter

Mushroom umbrella

Mushroom umbrella

I was so at home in the dark dripping forest, standing at length in silence, it was as if I’d brought a little of this from home, from the Myrtle Forest at the Edge of the Universe—though the singing of rain there differs.

Soon a few of us returned to workshop haiku. What gentle souls we were, making suggestions anonymously with a sincere desire to improve the magic of each others’ verse, then revealing ourselves as the conjurer of the workshopped haiku out of immediately-felt trust. The Haiku Poet is a sensitive creature, indeed.

Then off to bed this tired old hermit wandered through the cozy dark, to sleep without stirring through the night, till the next morning when we would re-enter the transcendent world of haiku—haiku-ists haiku-ing haiku (achoo)!

late night rain walk

And though some stayed up to the wee hours the night before, no one looked the worse for wear the following morning as we gathered in the Great Haiku Hall. There we played a Haiku Game, getting to know each other—or better. The Grand Haiku Poobah led us though his Haiku on Steroids, sharing his thousand years of albeit humble haiku experience—a generous soul that man! Then for one of the Featured Events of the Getaway: Ancient Masters (though they look so young) guided us on an extensive journey through the Cyber World of the Haiku Chronicles—its history, distribution, technology, and the teamwork involved in this enormous venue for the Ever Evolving World of Haiku. I was dazzled—speechless—swept away by the great symphony of this enthusiastic and dedicated duet. I saw what is possible. Paths broke open before me. Ideas bounced around like hacky sacks in my usually meditative mind. Great thanks to these Giants of Haiku for wandering much further, much farther, than I, to bring us this explosion of information and inspiration!

Al Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver presenting Haiku Chronicles

Al Pizzarelli and Donna Beaver presenting Haiku Chronicles

Then contest winners announced, a group photograph, a nature walk, sound in haiku—an endless stream of haiku delicacies to enrich and mull over. The day was ceaseless—seemed to stretch to eternity to accommodate an impossible lineup of ten-course haiku meals. I experienced my first kukai, a contest (or ranking) of haiku. That was nerve-racking, but fun. So good to see how it all works, in spirit so unlike the poetry slam. I began to feel dizzy for all the wonder I felt at what so many poets had to offer in readings before and after dinner. And if all the haiku were too much to appreciate, there was a talent show that evening, mostly for comic relief (or so I hoped). Afterward, I could take no more (had groomed a meaningful headache) and excused myself to bed as the party raged into the night.

Ruth Yarrow leading the Nature Walk

Ruth Yarrow leading the Nature Walk

distantly creaking

Terry Ann Carter leading off the Talent Show

Terry Ann Carter leading off the Talent Show

Michelle Schaefer and Jim Rodriguez (on Native American flute) with weightier subject matter

Michelle Schaefer and Jim Rodriguez (on Native American flute) present a weightier subject

And still, the following day, there was another full morning of festivities, entertainment, and haiku evolution. First, Haiku Comics: Master Frog and Disciple Frog, like Basho and Sora. Then, believe it or not, Monkeys Invaded My Sacred Palace and Chased Out My Tiger! If ever I was confused by the difference between haiku and senryu, or ignorantly conflated them, the difference was untwisted and unscrewed by our Grand Wizard of Haiku.

Al Pizzarelli with Monkeys Invading the Sacred Palace and Chasing Out the Tiger

Al Pizzarelli with Monkeys Invading the Sacred Palace Chasing Out the Tiger

John Stevenson chasing out a tiger or two

John Stevenson chasing out a tiger or two

Michael Dylan Welch presenting the book haiku from all of us at the Getaway

Michael Dylan Welch presenting a book of haiku from all of us to Al

By this time, I knew I’d had enough inspiration, information, insight, and ever-increasing interest to hold me till the next Great Haiku Party in the Woods by the Great Water, scheduled for next fall. I set out for my hut so nourished by the Getaway that I hardly noticed the week-long trek back to my little Myrtle Woods by the Edge of the Universe. Haiku fluttered about my head like butterflies around honeysuckle as I skirted the toes of the mountains on my return. I came away with enough gifts to hold me for many months till I grow antsy for the next Great Round of Haiku. I was relieved to find that my secret chanterelles, under the nurturing arms of their spruces, were just popping open their ocher umbrellas.

Golden chanterelles!

Golden chanterelles!

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Stalking the Wild Mushroom: The Hedgehog and the Chanterelle

Note: I wrote this essay two years ago for my college composition students to demonstrate use of multiple strategies in constructing an essay (narrative, description, compare-contrast, etc.). But in fact, by the time I posted it here, I’d gone mushroom hunting three times this fall without finding more than one or two of either species. After posting this essay, however, I went a fourth time, to a different spot, and found enough of each species for two scrambled egg breakfasts for two. Still scant in my area.

Recently I went mushrooming as I always do in the fall. Some years ago friends had us over for dinner for an introduction to mushrooming and mushroom preparation. Dave is an expert mushroomer who mushrooms all year round for all sorts of mushrooms, and Gail has taken it upon herself—under the circumstances—to learn to cook them. The occasion was a complete fall mushroom experience for us: We went out and found mushrooms and returned to their cabin to cook them using several recipes. Since then, I’ve become an enthusiastic fall mushroomer.

Ground-view Chanterelle

Ground-view chanterelle

Dave took us across the road from the cabin they often rent to a trail circling through the woods. He showed us two kinds of delicious edible mushrooms: the chanterelle and the hedgehog (not magic “shrooms”). These fungi tend to grow in similar habitats around the same time of year, from September to November—sometimes later, depending on the weather, region, and altitude. Both of these mushrooms prefer to grow under “virgin” evergreen trees, salal, and huckleberry, usually after the first heavy rains of fall. They don’t like to grow under deciduous trees; the falling leaves cover them and prevent them from springing up or cause them to rot beneath.

Ground-view hedgehog

Ground-view hedgehog

The chanterelle, in its healthiest form, is a natural work of art. Yellowy-orange in color, the mushroom has gills that run down the stalk a ways. It’s heavy and dense, and sometimes the edges are frilled. It tends to grow in patches and can be found growing in the same spots every year, so it’s a good idea to memorize the landscape, down to the twig, for future mushrooming forays. The chanterelle is much sought after because it’s quite delicious and can be used in numerous recipes. It runs anywhere from $8 to $25 a pound in the supermarket when they’re available. In areas where it grows, buyers place the sign Mushroom Buyer in front of their homes or businesses, trying to draw pickers in to sell their mushrooms on the local market.

Note color and how gills run down to merge with stalk.

Note the color and how the gills run down to merge with the stalk.

The hedgehog is neither as popular nor as available in markets as the chanterelle, but it’s nearly as delicious as the chanterelle and sometimes more abundant. It consists of a white to pale brown irregularly shaped platform supported by a stiff white trunk. It likes to grow under salal and in sandier soil than the chanterelle, which prefers the rich wet peat directly under spruces and hemlocks. The hedgehog is fairly easily distinguished by the fact that, rather than having long striated gills running from the stalk out to the edge of the head on the underside, it instead has a type of gill that gives the mushroom its name: a soft white brush that resembles the bristles of a hedgehog. The mushroom can be quite stout and heavy, sometimes reaching two pounds in weight. It breaks more easily than the chanterelle, which is more sinewy and fibrous (and which itself can reach a pound or more), and the so-called “bristles” break loose and scatter in the frying pan, but both are tender to the palate.

Note soft hedgehog-like bristles instead of "gills."

Note the soft hedgehog-like bristles instead of “gills.”

Many pickers carry a paper bag, a pocketknife, and a mushroom cleaning brush with them when they set out mushroom foraging. The paper bag keeps the mushrooms from becoming gooey. They use the knife to cut the stalk off at the ground in order not to harm the root system below. Keep in mind that the mushroom is merely the fruit of what is often a vast network of roots called a mycelium, which can live for centuries, conditions permitting. Mushroomers also use the knife, along with the brush, to do some preliminary cleaning before dropping a mushroom into the paper bag. One dirty mushroom can make a whole bag of mushrooms dirty, making for more cleaning work back home. It’s hard not to keep picking when the mushrooms are abundant. In fact, mushrooming, like other kinds of highfalutin foraging, can cause a gatherer to experience a kind of “gold fever.” Appropriately, both kinds of mushrooms can look golden in color, especially the chanterelle.

Free gold!

Free gold!

It’s no myth that mushroomers are secretive about and protective of privately discovered mushroom grounds. If the novice is lucky, a friend, relative, or professional mushroom hunter or mycologist will reveal or share an otherwise secret spot. More often than not, a mushroomer stumbles on a spot quite by accident. This was the case for me, when I discovered my second mushroom grounds. Shortly after our mushrooming lesson with Dave, my wife and I and a friend were walking in the woods when it occurred to me that I should keep an eye peeled for mushrooms. Sure enough, I found a single chanterelle under some salal beside an overgrown backwoods road, and I knew that where there was one there would be others. Before the day was done, we’d found several pounds of hedgehogs and several more chanterelles in the near vicinity of that first chanterelle. As far as I know, the three of us are the only ones who know about this spot, and I’m pretty sure our friend, who’s from Canada, could never find it again. As for my wife, she has no reason to return, because, in the fall, her husband regularly fetches home several pounds of the scrumptious creatures.

Pounds and pounds to saute and freeze....

Pounds and pounds to saute and freeze….

When I arrived at my secret spot this afternoon, I felt dubious about whether I’d find any mushrooms at all. It’s been an off year. We had 75 days of dry weather starting in August, taking us deep into fall without rain, which makes for terrible conditions for mushrooms, who need a good “spill” to “blossom” (which they can do overnight). When I went there two weeks earlier, I found a mere pound of chanterelles—and no hedgehogs. Typically, I find about four pounds, and maybe another two pounds later—a mix of the two species. And most of the mushrooms I found two weeks earlier were soggy. Some had white mold on their gills; these I threw away, not wanting to risk an accidental psychedelic journey.

I heard on the radio that it’s been a universally bad year for mushrooms in the Northwest and that restaurants are desperate for a supply in order to keep favorite menu items available to customers, a fact that points to just how popular wild mushrooms are and how obsessive the connoisseur can be about eating them. In fact, our friend Dave eats them as if his life depended on them. He believes that mushrooms have health-enhancing, life-extending powers, and now that he’s bought into that belief, there’s no stopping eating them now.

So, as I ducked into the woods this afternoon and up along a bank where the deer traverse and leave droppings in abundance, I didn’t expect to find any more mushrooms, at least not chanterelles. The alder leaves had already fallen and no doubt smothered those few mushrooms that never saw the light of day or had rotted those few that had. Yet, as I’d scrambled under and over and around rain-wet bushes and branches, wending my way along crisscrossing deer paths, I spotted that familiar orange color that stands out even against the yellow of fallen alder leaves. By the time I’d walked my usual route, I’d found another pound of chanterelles, many, again, gooey with rain and leaves. My hope is that the hedgehogs will make an appearance later in the month, once we have some colder, dryer nights.

Ah, the perfect hedgehog!

Ah, the perfect hedgehog!

As soon as I got home with my skimpy pickings, I poured the mushrooms out on a large cutting board. I used a knife tip and a dry brush to remove bits of leaf, spruce needles, peat, and sand. For the first time in my fall mushrooming career, I used the kitchen tap to clean some of the gooier mushrooms. They were so wet already that it didn’t matter. However, expert mushroomers prefer to dry-clean these—if not all—species of mushrooms. What’s great about finding only a few mushrooms is that it takes only about ten or fifteen minutes to clean them, whereas it might take an hour to clean four pounds.

Just enough mushrooms for scrambled eggs in the morning, I thought, as I placed the cleaned mushrooms in a new dry bag and then in the refrigerator for the next morning’s meal. Fry them up for scrambled eggs, make them the meaty heart of a thick soup, sauté them for either a white or red pasta sauce, or dice them fine to mix into rice. The flavor of both hedgehogs and chanterelles far exceeds that of the standard issue grocery store mushroom.

Just enough for scrambled eggs....

Just enough for scrambled eggs….

The sensation of finding, cleaning, stashing away in the refrigerator, or sautéing and freezing such valuable natural gifts as wild mushrooms is deeply satisfying. We don’t even need a license to pick wild mushrooms! But watch out about mushrooming on private property or even public property already staked out by possessive mushroomers. Stories abound about shotguns going off and a few pellets piercing the unsuspecting rear end of an overly enthusiastic fungus gatherer.

Will the real hedgehog please stand up?

Will the real hedgehog please rise?