Fungus Among Us


While much of the foliage of the season is a drab brown, and the soft, light green buds of perennials have yet to appear, little spores have lent themselves to the process of fertilization in the moisture of winter, and the resulting mushrooms peek out of the musky leaf litter.  Max, Holly, and I went for a New Year’s Day hike at Thornewood Open Space, a historic residential property that was donated to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space Preserve years ago.  You can find this place high in the hills near Black Mountain, which many Stroller Hikes families had the fortune to backpack camp at, in the foothills of Palo Alto.  It’s above Huddart, Wunderlich, and other local Woodside hikes you may already frequent, and if like me, you hadn’t ever set foot on this estate, I highly recommend it.  Learn more at

The three of us were amazed at the diversity of mushrooms we found on our trek to the lake and back – less than 2 miles of hiking, but plenty of scenery to keep us preoccupied.  Max delighted in the varying grasses in this region.  Alongside the creeks we crossed, we found rushes with their telltale round blades.

 Reeds are flat,
Rushes are round,
Sedges have edges,
Now isn’t that profound?

 The second teacher I taught with, taught me this saying, that I see now has raised quite a stir on the Internet – despite its exceptions, it’s a useful saying to help one distinguish between the different grasses that frequent wetlands.  (Just don’t try to use it reliably if you become a professional botanist.) 

Shortly after our sedge sighting, Holly found a banana slug, like a slimy bright hybrid of a plump sedge and rush.  It’s four little antennae popped inside its head, as it pretended to no longer exist, not certain what a hypermobile two year old was about to do.  Another 20 feet later, after they both tired of waiting for the antennae to re-emerge, we found the fifth type of mushrooms for that day.

Right now is prime season for mushroom picking, but I could not be convinced to try it – there is just too much room for error, I think.  One mushroom that might seem edible could be immediately toxic, so both of my kids have been taught not to touch them in the wild.  We’ll stick to farm-grown mushrooms and the rare truffle-infused oils I have the fortune of receiving from my foodie friends.  Most of our mushroom sightings are shown above, alongside my trusty partners in mycology for the day – inside a tree fort they found above the lake. My favorites were the coral-like mushrooms, of which I found three kinds (two above).  Max liked the perfectly round golden mushroom with concentric targets.  Holly seemed taken aback with the banana slug-colored one, thinking antennae were hiding there, as well.

New Year’s Day Hikes were being promoted for the last three weeks across the country – a national movement supported by a lot of local agencies that were offering free hikes.  When I saw my first headline about this, I was puzzled, as I often am, as to why hikes would ever cost money.  I’ve managed to brainwash myself, by running a hike-infused nonprofit for the last six years, which has never charged money for a hike.  Certainly, fees collected for outdoor guides are sometimes warranted – say for hunting, fishing, off-trail treks, or for the sagest of outdoor experts.  But if the goal is to welcome the whole world, regardless of income, to develop healthy outdoor, exercise, and environmental habits, the hardest thing about the hike should be putting one foot in front of the other, not ponying up money to pay for it.

At Stroller Hikes, we are looking forward to another year of fantastic FREE outings, many which you will begin to see on the calendar as the sun starts to set a little later (mid-February) and the winter chill and storms have passed (March).  In the meantime, we’ll have our annual board meeting in a week, finish work on a new website, and plan for some camping and backpacking this year (the only things for which a reservation fee is required), and our quite fearless leaders Melanie and Karen will continue leading their Toddler Treks in sunny Santa Cruz and Milpitas.  Chilled to the bone lately, I’ll turn up at Planet Granite every other week to belay kids wanting to rock climb.

Happy New Year!

-Debbie (Founder and President), Max (6), Holly (2), and Andrew

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