It rained almost the entire 9 hours we spent in the car driving from East Lansing to Elkins. By "almost" I mean maybe 8.5 out of the 9 hours. When we arrived it was foggy and still raining on and off. It rained the first night as we slept soundly in our dwellings, lulled by the river.
And when we woke up that first morning it looked like... another day of rain. But that was not the case! We ate breakfast out on the porch, trying to ward off the chilly fog with hot black coffee.
That morning, led by Robert— a botanist, naturalist, PhD and mountain man reachable only by mail or hike— we were going to hunt for mushrooms in the Monongahela National Forest. We couldn't have asked for a better day! All that rain made just about every spore in the forest bloom into a mushroom overnight.
Robert and his faithful companion Shep scoured the woods with expert eyes— Robert looked for mushrooms and Shep looked for sticks to chew on.
We found so many different types of fungi that I could never begin to remember them all, and I'm not going to put all the pictures up either. Robert knew the name and classification of every single mushroom, and he could tell us how to identify them as well as how to distinguish them between other, similar types. The beautiful turquoise mushrooms below are fairly rare [I think Robert said "You found the treasure!" when someone pointed them out].
The "honey mushrooms" below are edible, and we had them for dinner on sunday night. They were all over the forest floor, and thankfully easy to spot and indentify.
Mushroom hunting isn't exactly my favorite pastime, and I would never trust myself to scour the woods for dinner, but the knowledge Robert had of... everything... really impressed me. He lives up in the mountains, without so much as a phone! In order for him to visit us and take us on this tour, Michael sent him a few letters and hoped that Robert would come down the mountain to check his mail before we had come and gone. As it turned out, he got the letters just in the nick of time. Michael told us that Robert's home was quite a hike, which is why he didn't visit him in person to ask about the weekend.
I'm sure if the world collapsed into disorder tomorrow, Robert would be able to survive and thrive on his own, foraging for food in the forests around his home. Sad to think that, not so long ago, the average person would possess a fair amount of the knowledge he has of the natural world. Today, we think of mushrooms shrink-wrapped in styrofoam.
You can see how small two of the students on the trip looked when put into perspective against the nearly-still river and forests set deep into the mountains. We should remember that more often.