Gary (30), Denver, CO
Interview conducted remotely via the internet.
The winds are howling in the Azores today. The deck of the R Heritage too is covered with sand. Even though the hatches are all sealed, the fine grains make their way into the cabin. After 2 consecutive days of being blasted by sand, it starts to get to you. You wonder if sandeye is a word and know that no matter what, you’ll be eating some sort of sandwich. You check the weather again to confirm that the storm is predicted to get worse. At least two more days of this. Sheltering is place is the only real option. At around 6:30 this morning you were “awoken” by the distinctive pop of a dock line failing. You never really sleep well on a boat in weather like this, even in port. In the back of your head you know that despite you best preparations, at any point you might have to be up to look after the boat. You begin to personify her and the bond that has formed is strengthened. You venture out on deck to care for her, knowing that if you try your best to look after her she will do the same for you. The sand stings on your face. Despite the gnarly winds, a jogger runs down the pier. It brings a smile to your face. People sure are hearty here in the Azores.
So many of the sailing sites and YouTube pages are full of sunshine and rainbows. I have certainly experienced numerous remarkable days since I left the working world to start actually living life. I’ll appreciate the next great day on the water even more after this storm passes, and it continues to surprise me when people thank me for sharing stories of the times when life on a sailboat is far from ideal.
Yesterday I performed the second remote interview since returning to the Azores. Gary is a microbiologist who worked with me in Denver who started his own business growing gourmet mushrooms in Denver called Fresh from the Farm Fungi http://freshfromthefarmfungi.com/. His words follow.
What is your favorite part of living in Denver?
The mountains. I grew up in New York and there are mountains there too but they are not the same. Here you can have access to spring time almost any time of the year. I also like winter and snowboarding. Unfortunately that season ended early this year due to the Covid-19 virus. All the ski areas were ordered to be closed
What is your least favorite part of living in Denver?
I dislike the Traffic. The roads are so crowded and I am happy to see the cities investment in the light rail and other forms of public transportation. I also would like to see more local mom and pop restaurants. There are too many chain restaurants in Denver. They lack character. Mom and pop stores are something I miss from the east.
What is your favorite restaurant?
Olde Town Tavern in Littleton. The owners are nice and they take the time to get to know you. Its a bit divey but that is part of the charm. I love their chicken wings
Do you see the natural world changing?
Yes, I’ve been in Denver 8 years. When I first came you used to be able to hike places like hanging lake and not see anybody. Now there are quotas and you have to pay. There is more litter. If you want to find solitude you have to choose your spots carefully. Housing is also very expensive
How are these changes impacting your community?
It is difficult for young people to afford housing and really connecting with nature by finding a quiet spot in the mountains is a challenge. I think it important for humans to spend time in wild places and get to know the world. I also worry about how the shortened ski season will impact mountain communities that rely on tourism.
What are you doing to reduce your impact?
I started Fresh from the Farm Fungi to provide locally grown mushrooms. It think growing foods locally one way we can try and reduce the spread of things around the globe. I also try and avoid getting in my car when possible. For example, I bike to the store with my backpack and to the post office when I get online deliveries. It is often quicker with all the traffic. We have also been offering classes on mushroom growing. Teaching people about mushrooms is enlightening them about the natural world. They seem to appreciate the complexity of the fungal life cycle. They seem fascinated about the symbiosis with plants and they are amazed at how fast they can grow. This aspect of the business I like most is seeing people gain an appreciation for the complexities of the natural world. The constant access to delicious foods is also a great benefit.
Do you have any questions for me?
Yes, I remember you bringing morels into work. Where did you find them and when did you start mushroom hunting?
I first learned about foraging wild mushrooms in college. Vince the owner of a restaurant in Durango named Ariano’s used to find Chanterelles and Porcinis. I didn’t get serious about it until my days as a researcher at Michigan State. A friend of mine named Ron took me morel hunting. It is the hobby that has taught me most about life. It is hard not to notice the changes that are occurring when you walking the same forest year after year. You begin to realize that every species depends on each other and really start to feel mother earth. I’ve nothing against logging as we need wood to build houses, but the forest is definitely changed afterwards. I’ve visited stretches of forest that I saw logged 20 years ago and they do not resemble the place I originally visited. Watching the Ash trees die from the Emerald Ash borer has been very sad. Ash are often the tallest tree in northern hardwood forests and when the dies the forest floor becomes much less lush.
Leaks and trillium are replaced by grasses. I have also seen huge colonies of orchids. Literally hundreds if not thousands of yellow slipper orchids in a small area. I went back to find them the subsequent year to experience it again but the area had been logged and there was not a flower in sight. My favorite thing about mushroom picking though was spending time with my family. My mother used to pick mushroom with her father in Canada. Her, my brother and I have accumulated many great memories of our times in the woods. I makes me wonder about old times when knowledge was passed down verbally in tribal settings
I appreciate that Gary is trying to teach people of the wonders and diversity of our natural world. He asked a second time about morel spots. I retained my right to remain silent as most mushroom pickers do. I did share some general tips about timing and host species. It is better that people learn by exploring the earth themselves. People often ask if I am worried that about eating the incorrect mushroom. Of course, I tell them. Foraging the wilds is all about being risk adverse, but when you spend enough time in the woods you start to recognize species as individuals. Much like seeing a friends face in a crowded city.