Being retired, I like to travel to other parts of the country or world to pursue my interest in mushrooms. This year, I considered two choices: the annual foray to Alaska in August hosted by long-term FFSC member, Bill White, or the national NAMA (North American Mycological Society) foray to Virginia, set for September 8-11. For a variety of reasons, I opted to go to Virginia. Oops, not the best choice as it turns out - Alaska had primo pickin’ while Virginia didn’t.
The setting for the NAMA foray was at a 4-H educational center in the Blue Ridge Mountains area of northeastern Virginia, an absolutely lovely part of the world. The Appalachia region of the eastern United States is renowned for its wide variety of mushroom species so I was expecting to be overwhelmed with the diversity of what would be found at the foray. However, there appears to be some sort of “unofficial” curse that the NAMA forays have been under for a few years now: little rain and dry conditions leading to a paucity of ‘schrooms. And, it continues. The area had seen little rain in the weeks prior to the foray so the conditions were dry. Besides that, the weather during that time period featured temperatures in the mid-90s with accompanying high humidity. Soon after stepping into the woods, you’d be sweating heavily and had attracted an annoying swarm of gnats and other bugs. While the center was air conditioned, several of the buildings’ HVAC systems were not really able to keep up with the crowds or the heat. So, conditions in the lecture halls were about the same as the woods, but without the bugs.
I had traveled to the area early so I had time to do some scouting prior to the start of the foray. I’d flown into Dullas airport and rented a car so I was mobile enough to survey a wide area. I decided to drive the Skyline Drive of the Shenandoah National Park, the northern entrance of which is in Front Royal where I was staying. The drive follows the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains for about 110 miles toward the southeastern end of Virginia. The area is completely wooded with a wide variety of hardwoods with scattered white pines. Many scenic overlooks were built into the design of the drive so there were many opportunities to stop to appreciate the wonderful views, take pictures and to scout. I stopped at least a dozen times and discovered that the NAMA curse had been renewed for this year’s foray. I found a number of mushrooms on dead wood but nothing growing on the ground – not a good sign for my foray expectations. The highlight of my scouting efforts was a close encounter with a black bear but fortunately it was more afraid of me than I was of it!
So, by now you must be thinking that I was sorry I went. Not so! Even though the lack of mushrooms was disappointing, there is always a lot more to the NAMA forays than just the mushrooms. So, instead of spending a lot of time sweating in the woods, swatting at bugs and finding little, I spent most of my time on the other pluses of a big foray like this. First, there were a lot of people there that I’ve met in the past with whom I had a great time reacquainting as well as meeting new people. There was a great lineup of speakers covering a wide range of mycological subjects, so I spent a good deal of time listening to talks and trying to increase my knowledge. These forays have a real who’ who of mycologists that are easy to meet and talk to about common interests – people like Nathan Wilson (founder of Mushroom Observer), Alan and Arleen Bassette, Denis Benjamin, Roy Halling, Gary Lincoff (author of the Audubon Society field guide), Walt Sturgeon (foray head mycologist), and Rytas Vilgalys. A number of these people have been speakers at past FFSC meetings. As Minister of Programs, it also gave me a fertile field of potential speakers! Other locals at the foray were Cassandra Fuentes, our own FFSC Minister of Local Forays, and BAMS founders David Rust (President of NAMA) and Debbie Viess.
Other activities enjoyed at the foray included lively socials every evening, a silent auction, vendor sales, a raffle, a mushroom photography contest, a well-attended mycophagy (mushroom dish tasting) session that I helped prepare, and several awards honoring people’s contributions to mycology. I also attended the NAMA Trustee’s meeting, experiencing all the inner workings, planning and decision making that makes the organization tick.
I admit that I did overemphasize the lack of mushrooms a bit in this report. With dozens of experienced hunters going into the field several times a day for several days, a lot of different species were collected and identified. While most of those were wood-rotters, those things growing on dead wood, a number of terrestrial species were collected. In total, over 300 species were collected, identified, photographed, samples taken for DNA analysis and vouchered. The samples will be archived, as in past forays, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. During the foray, collections were on display with identifications so there was plenty to see and learn in a short period of time. There were a number of things I was familiar with and a whole lot that I’d never seen before. That is one of the things I really enjoy about going to a new area. It gives you a sense about how many things are out there that we just don’t know. And sometimes I come away even remembering some of the names of the new species I’ve seen.