Because Tanya and Ollie were my true roommates, when I woke up that morning, it was the most comfortable feeling one could have while vacationing with friends. Hey, I already lived with them, so there was no awkwardness about bathroom use or grouchiness.
Before we could fully dress for the day, Tanya called out “We must go to Stewart’s and get donuts for breakfast! And their milk!”
“Of course!” Ollie replied.
Stewart’s is a brand quite a few Americans are used to, but only because of their cream sodas. You can find them in most grocery stores. But Stewart’s is a dairy-based chain store in upstate New York, and maybe other places, too. Stewart’s is like a cross between A&P and 7-11 and Krispy Kreme. A&P, because of the limited yet varied selection of goods offered, 7-11 because of it’s convenience, and Krispy Kreme because it’s donuts are awesome. An added bonus (Tanya would emphasize), is it’s own brand of milk, which she considers the freshest, ever.
We gathered up our breakfast quickly, drove back to the cabin, dumped it all into a little rowboat that was beached next to our cabin, and rowed out onto Lake George. We were so hasty, we forgot to pack cups for the milk and napkins. So we poured the milk directly into our mouths and swished our sticky hands in the lake.
I looked up at the rolling mountains. Compared to the Rockies, they were just large hills. A person could climb that part of the Adirondacks with no trouble. It reminded me of a documentary I’d seen regarding the northeast and how it had been completely deforested around the beginning of the 1900s.
“I can’t believe,” I said, “that just a hundred years ago those hills were all cut down for lumber.” I looked at their lush greenness. I tried to imagine the hills completely black, bare, and smoldering, how they must have appeared around 1900.
“Yeah,” Tanya said. We’d watched that documentary together.
I get that feeling a lot when I’m out in the woods. When Colonials discovered America, it was almost all virgin growth. That means that every forest we visit nowadays has been replanted within the past century and a half. Maybe a little more. But really, just baby forests.
After breakfast, it was time for me to be introduced to Tanya and Ollie’s favorite Upstate pastime: mushroom hunting. Not the fun, trippy ones. The real, edible ones.
Previously, at our apartment, I’d seen Tanya and Ollie bring back brimming boxes of mushrooms from upstate. Ollie would do something with the mushrooms and some butter which completely dissolved the shape of the mushroom. I think he fried them while using and egg beater. I don’t know. All I know is the resulting product looked like foamy diarrhea and I never tried it, although they proclaimed it ambrosial.
So we drove to a state park. In a state park, all plants and wildlife are protected. By now, I was used to their grab-assing of other people’s produce but they did warn me to hide any mushrooms I had if we spotted a park ranger.
This was never a problem with me as I never spotted a single mushroom. After endless descriptions and after Tanya personally showed me what an edible mushroom looks like when it’s still in the ground, I never found a single one. Ever. They found hundreds upon hundreds. Very embarrassing for me, but I was actually satisfied to be the dunce. Instead of having an eye for mushrooms, I found other nature and observed it instead. There were many mosquitoes and I seemed to be the only one of our group to be constantly under their fire.
As we were hunting deep in the woods, a park ranger stopped us. That’s right, he walked up just as Tanya and Ollie were picking while I lingered behind, empty handed.
“Hey there! This is a protected forest! What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Oh! Oh hi!” Tanya called back with the same intensity, but she implied total friendliness, like he’d stumbled upon us while we were singing Christmas carols and sipping cider. Her tone of voice was so convincing, he changed his tune immediately.
She excitedly showed him her cardboard box full of fungal booty.
I was skeptical about how it would play out, but knew from strip club experience that a Russian woman’s passion and intensity could win anyone over.
In thirty seconds, the ranger was Tanya’s buddy. I was incredulous. Tanya told him how great the mushrooms tasted, and even showed him how to spot them.
“Well, I never knew those things were edible,” he said. “I see ‘em everywhere.”
Instead of taking her mushrooms and banning us from forests state-wide, he engaged her in a several-minutes long discussion about fungi and pointed us deeper in the woods, where we were sure to find more.
“Oh,” he called, just as he started to walk on, “When you leave the park, look at the front door to our ranger station. There is a huge white mushroom there that looks just like a human skull. I sure would like to know what that thing is called!”
“Of course!” Tanya smiled.
The ranger walked away, and we all collapsed into laughter.
The hunt resumed.
When they felt they had a meal’s worth, we drove out. Of course, we saw the huge skull mushroom at the ranger station, and Tanya poked her head out of the car. Calling out to a totally bewildered ranger, she screeched the name of the mushroom and said to pass the info on to our ranger. He said he would.
Back at the cabin, Tanya and Ollie cooked the mushrooms and ate them, 2 girls 1 cup style. I never saw it, because based on my experiences back in our apartment, the smell and sight of it was truly grotesque.
That night, we were to return to their gay friend’s house.