Paul Stamets, a mycologist I had come to visit in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula to go mushroom hunting, had a gift he wanted to give me. We were in his office, looking at some images on his computer, when he pulled off the shelf a small pile of amadou hats, made of felt pressed from mushroom fibers. “See if one of these fits you.” Most of the mushroom hats were too big for me, but I found one that sat comfortably on my head and thanked him for the gift. The hat was surprisingly soft and almost weightless, but I felt a little silly with a mushroom on my head, so I carefully packed it in my luggage.
Early Sunday morning we drove west toward the Pacific Coast and then south to the Columbia River, where it flows into the Pacific, stopping for lunch and camping provisions in the resort town of Long Beach. This being the first week of December, the town was pretty well buttoned up and sleepy. Stamets requested that I not publish the exact location where we went hunting for Psilocybe azurescens, a variety of “magic mushroom” first identified and named by Stamets, and the most potent ever found. But what I can say is that there are three public parks bordering the wide-open mouth of the Columbia—Fort Stevens, Cape Disappointment, and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park—and we stayed at one of them. Stamets, who has been coming here to hunt “azzies” for years, was mildly paranoid about being recognized by a ranger, so he stayed in the car while I checked in at the office and picked up a map giving directions to our yurt.
As soon as we unloaded and stowed our gear, we laced up our boots and headed out to look for mushrooms. Which really just meant walking around with eyes cast downward, tracing desultory patterns through the scrub along the sand dunes and in the grassy areas adjoining the yurts. We adopted the posture of the psilocybin stoop, except that we raised our heads every time we heard a car coming. Foraging mushrooms is prohibited in most state parks, and being in possession of psilocybin mushrooms is both a state and a federal crime.