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A foray into San Juan mushrooming

Art Goodtimes has been mushroom hunting in the San Juan mountains since coming to Telluride some forty years ago
Julia Caulfield
Art Goodtimes has been mushroom hunting in the San Juan mountains since coming to Telluride some forty years ago

For many, the monsoon season in Colorado's highest peaks means one thing, mushrooms.

This month, the late summer rains are filling high elevation forests with a diverse array of fungi, and mushroom enthusiasts are headed out to get their fill.

At an undisclosed location, off the highway somewhere past Trout Lake and the Lizard Head Pass, Art Goodtimes is headed up into the forest.

“We’re just gonna head in to that spot there. There’s a little creek that runs along there. If for some reason you get lost, just come to that drainage and follow it down,” said Goodtimes.

Goodtimes, a poet from Norwood, is renowned in and around Telluride.

Today, he’s headed up into these woods in search of mushrooms.

Goodtimes has been mushroom hunting here since coming to Telluride some forty years ago.

“And then I was only here a couple of months and they had an opening for Arts Council Director. I applied; it was five dollars an hour! So it wasn’t much money, but it was a huge way into the community, it was cool,” he said.

Shortly into his tenure with the arts council, Art got connected with some mushroom enthusiasts and mycologists from Denver.

Soon enough, the Telluride Mushroom Festival began.

It’s been a Telluride staple ever since.

But today, Goodtimes has brought me out less to talk about the festival, and more to learn the craft of mushroom hunting, which Goodtimes explains is called foraying.

“Actually, foraging is really for plants and botany. Foraying is a mushroom term. So when we’re hunting for mushrooms we’re foraying, and all the mushroom clubs and the mushroom festival and the mycological people talk about foraying,” said Goodtimes.

Crossing a meadow and climbing up a slope, we approach a forest of spruce and fir.

Goodtimes says that mushrooms emerge and disappear quickly as weather conditions change.

“It’s dry here; this is worrisome. So it hasn’t monsooned in a couple days. It dries out here in a day or two. That’s the trouble with mushrooms. It’s very sensitive,” he said.

Despite the dryness, Goodtimes soon finds a deep purple mushroom with a creamy white underside covered in delicate, papery gills.

Goodtimes suspects it might be edible, and performs a quick test.

“What you do is you take a small bite off the edge of it, just a bit, and keep it in the front of your mouth for fifteen or twenty seconds to see if it burns,” said Goodtimes.

We get no burning sensation, so Goodtimes unwraps a wax bag and into the pot it goes.

“I’m not getting a burning, so this to me is xerampelina. That’s what I’ve heard, that there’s a lot of xerampelina up here,” he said.

Pressing deeper into the forest, Goodtimes discovers a true treasure, chanterelles.

Perhaps the most prized edible in terms of flavor, Goodtimes explains that they must be carefully cleaned in the field with a brush and a knife.

Chanterelle is one of those mushrooms that you never want to wash. It loses its flavor when you wash it, it washes out the water-soluble oils. That’s why you really need to field clean them. You can pick other mushrooms and clean them at home, but not with Chanterelle,” he said.

The labor and the attention required by Chanterelles are part of what is special about foraying, Goodtimes says.

“And then, when you have the patience to sit there, you have enough time to sing, to tell stories, because you get into this state where you’re in tune with the world around you and everything is alive, the mushrooms are alive, you talk to everything, you sing, and you’re part of it,” said Goodtimes.

After a couple of hours, we have each gathered a small but promising harvest, and we make our way back down the slope.

On the drive back to Telluride, Goodtimes says that the festival has come to honor all aspects of mushrooming, from mycological science, to art, to the good old fashioned mushroom foray.

“It’s more than just a conference, like maps or science, it actually has the arts, it has poetry, it has music. It’s meant to be a whole body experience, and getting out into the woods foraying is so ancient. Doris La Chappelle came one year and just talked about how important it was to go back to an activity that is so ancient in our genes, in our tribe, in our people, in our genus,” said Goodtimes.

The Mushroom festival took place in Telluride August 17-21.

However, the mushrooms are already out in the forest.

If you head out on a foray, keep an eye out for Art Goodtimes.

He might be out there, singing his song to the forest.

This story from KOTO was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including Aspen Public Radio.

Gavin McGough is a reporter at KOTO in Telluride.