Mushroom Hounds!

There are a few spots around the property where the poison ivy hasn’t taken over, and the moisture in the shady areas host a number of interesting life forms.  Stacked up towards the back of the lot is a pile of split wood.  It consists of the remains of an old hickory tree we took down some years back.  We took it down because we didn’t want to wait for it to come down by itself since our house would have most assuredly cushioned a natural fall.

The woodpile provides as a nice high rise condominium, hotel, mall, and dining facility for an array of termites, ants, wasps, spiders, toads, lizards, fungi, and snakes.  Chipmunks also play there, as do cottonmouths and copperheads–often to the disappointment of the chipmunks.

The varmits see it as a free park, and a convention center.  They have family reunions, and schedule annual; semi-annual, monthly, weekly, and often daily meetings as their various associations find necessary.  Most of them meet in the daytime, but some come around at night, if for no other reason than to make sure my motion sensor lights are working.

Though they should show some discretion, my dawgs are afraid of none of these critters.  Sometimes a squirrel, rabbit or snake shows up for a meeting while the puppies are sniffing about the woodpile, and a little pandemonium gets underfoot.  Usually, squirrels and snakes get away, but the rabbits need to find a better place to meet.  I’m not sure what the agenda for the critter gatherings are all about, but I’ll bet it isn’t trying to help in any way to come up with the property taxes.

We’ve been generous to our canine residents, and have provided them with bones, rubber chew toys, balls, and more sticks than you can shake a stick at.  There is also a roll of barbed wire spread out loosely on the ground behind the woodpile just to entertain the puppies, but they’ve recently discovered newer attractions.  The warm wet climate has been perfect this year for the production of toadstools.  Our local toads find no shortage of places to sit in spite of the tremendous efforts put forth by our canine duo to harvest these dainty little pieces of organic furniture.

Not that there is any shortage of food, as these dawgs have never known a hungry day, but they are eating mushrooms a lot now, and eat them as if they were starving.  I’ve noticed they seem open-minded as to variety, which is not recommended for the novice wild mushroom hunter.  Daily, they bring a pile of ’em to the patio by our back door.  Then, they work out of that pile like it was an open cookie jar in a kindergarten.  At other times they just eat the fire wood, since by now every inch of it is saturated with succulent yummy fungal spores.  To them, it must be something like adding wheat germ to a bowl of cereal.

This new diet has affected their attitude.  If you call them, they will just stand there and look at you as if they are thinking about it.  I kept a watch for other signs of perception disorders, but since they cannot talk, some things are hard to tell.  Losing all track of time is a condition not usually recognized in a dawg until supper is ready, and so far, they’ve passed the test.  There was no notice of any heightened sense of fear, and as a matter of fact, the exact opposite seemed prominent.  Right now, I think they’d try to stare down a freight train.

The concern here is that the same toxins that would kill me or you could also kill the dawgs.  How do they know the difference between the harmless and the deadly ones?  Have they somehow learned to recognize certain kinds that have nutritional or other benefits?  Would they be willing to share that information?  I don’t know.

An old friend from college days would know about this stuff.  He is now a PhD and a scientist.  He does lectures, seminars and workshops on edible fungi.  I thought about contacting him, but if I did, he’d try to teach me something.  Many people who have tried that have drifted into a deep and life long depression.  You have to keep in mind my learning pattern: after about five and a half decades, I can still play little other than “Oh Susannah” on the harmonica, so learning to identify mushrooms by sight could take me awhile.  I think I’ll leave the toadstool doctor alone, as I have nothing against him enough to wish him depressed.

Lila Bea, who is normally made nervous by the slightest change in the weather, took no notice of a passing thunderstorm, which put me on notice.  Zipper rolled over on his back and smiled as if he’d just watched a Laurel and Hardy movie, and didn’t even get up to chase a squirrel that had come up on the patio to inspect a stash of portobellos.  This also put me on notice, but I had other matters of business on my mind at the time.

Company was due to arrive any minute, and I had fired up the grill.  When it comes to a cookout, there is nothing like the glowing embers of a good old charcoal and hickory fire to put the finishing touches to a well marinated platter of steaks.  The heat from the fire pit added nicely to the sultry conditions prevalent in these dawg days of summer, but just to make sure no pleasant breeze would sneak in and ruin everything, I lit a cigar.

Normally, our puppies tend to avoid the grill when it gets hot.  That is natural.  I think most of us would.  Even spiders and other bugs evacuate the premises once the heat starts to build,  but today such a caution was being ignored (by the dawgs–the spiders all left early).  The puppies were beyond mellow.  Between casual strolls to graze crabgrass like cattle; taking resting spells, and playing with their front feet in the water dish, these two crazy dawgs made a discovery: they noticed the old tin can I keep located at the bottom of the smoker pit.

The function of the can is to catch grease and other drippings coming from the drain port centered at the far lower end of the grill.  It is a common practice among those who don’t care to step in smelly, greasy, slippery gooey nastiness that would otherwise splatter all over the patio floor.  BBQ grills all over the country are outfitted with something to catch grease drippings, and I venture you’ve seem an old green bean can employed that way more than once.

The drippings are minimal, so the can rarely gets emptied, or changed out–not nearly as often as we change the oil in the pickup truck.  The drip can has not been attended to now in a year or two, so the contents were sure to be foul and rancid by now.  Does it produce foul odors?  If so, I haven’t noticed, but maybe that’s because of the cigar, I don’t know.

Why the puppies haven’t paid the drip can any attention up to now is a puzzle to me.  But all of a sudden they did find it, and knocked it down, spilling its vile contents all over the deck around my grill.  You wouldn’t care to step in such filth, or even touch it.  But that is not the case with dawgs anymore than a robin is squeamish about putting an earthworm in her mouth.

Right before that happened, I had just stepped back inside the den to check on a vessel I keep inside of a cabinet by the door for my own mood modification, and other medicinal purposes.  That carafe needs to be inspected frequently to make sure it isn’t too full, and if it appears to be, I always pour off any excess into a glass I keep handy for such schemes as I can come up with.  As expected, the carafe needed a little draining, but only a moment was required.

With very little ceremony, I was soon back outside with the grill and the hounds.  While I had been busy with my brief distraction, Zipper and Lila responded to my example by developing a similar opinion of the grease can: they must have decided it was too full.  But, they more than drained it a little.  They drained it a lot: dumping its entire contents onto the deck.  In no time at all, they whipped up a most unusually thick batch of grayish black gravy with the addition of some home grown, extra thick and chunky, cream of wild mushroom soup.  By impulse or design, I don’t know which, they decided to eat a good bit of it, and then wear the rest as if it were sunscreen, or a mosquito repellent.

Have you ever found it necessary to dab the corner of your mouth with a napkin to remove a small unsightly spot of something?  There is not enough linen in the state of Georgia to be sufficient for wiping the mess made by my mutts: what they didn’t immediately eat, they stepped and rolled in.  Lila is a yellow lab, but now she looked like a Dalmatian that had been in a fight with a paint bucket.  Zipper’s brindle and white tuxedo coat took on the look of something rolled in the ashes of a bonfire, and my deck was now ground zero of a disaster area.

Brenda has a special radar that picks up on any situation involving those two puppies.  It is kind of a mothering instinct, and these are her puppies.  Like magic, she appeared at the patio door with a towel to wipe Lila and Zipper’s faces.  You couldn’t tell if it did Zipper any good, but it did help smear the oily black mess to places Lila had missed back around behind her ears.

My business at the grill left no time for fooling with this variety.  I had company in the house, and it was time for them to eat.  You have to keep your priorities straight, especially when one of the guests is your mother.  So, I abandoned the crisis of the toxic oil spill, and took dinner to the dinner table.  During dinner, we kept conversation about the mess downstairs to a polite minimum.

When I came back down later to address the cleanup, both dawgs had added to the situation by throwing up.  My second reaction (the first being disgust, and almost motivated to copy their behavior) was to wonder if it was the rancid grease, or the indiscretions of their mushroom selection that was the problem.  You couldn’t tell from the little puddles of rejected diet, as each contained samples of everything in the yard except me.

Besides keeping an eye on them, I would want to learn the right method to teach a dawg not to eat wild mushrooms, as it is a dangerous habit for anyone that has had no practical education on the matter.  But once something smells good enough to be put in their mouths, it seems almost impossible to convince them to leave it alone.  Experts and friends have suggested one of the most important things to teach a dawg is the command: “Leave It!”, or “Drop It!”

I suppose there is some merit in it, but like with everybody else, it won’t do any good unless you are watching them all the time.  Law enforcement has found reminders are often necessary even for humans.  You can’t depend on  just posting signs, and dawgs cant’t read anyway.

I’m at a loss.  If something smells good to me, it also smells good to the dawgs; if something smells offensive to me, they take a liking to it just the same.  So far, I have found no successful way to discourage them from anything once it tickles their fancy.

Maybe I’m being overly concerned.  Maybe there is a chance that they will poison themselves, but I cannot know what those odds would be.  Considering the overall environment here, they probably face a higher likelihood of being bitten by venomous vipers.   Perhaps even more so, they may well run the risk of me shooting them both one of these days, if they don’t straighten up.

Well now, that is a pretty outrageous idea that I might actually shoot the dawgs.  If I were to ever approach them with such an intent, you can bet that from behind I’d hear some kind of mechanical “click” followed by a loud enraged feminine voice yelling:

“Drop it!”

It would probably work every time.  The thought of it may be some deterrent for me, but I am an educated man.  The dawgs have not been to that school yet, and if they ever do go, they are not likely to pay any more attention than they have with all the other classes they’ve failed.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nadeen on August 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I always so enjoy reading what you write; although one of my most consistent reactions, no matter the topic is “Poor Brenda”. LOL


  2. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on August 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    As part of your family, Lila Bea and Zipper are following the example of their male human. You have to realize your influence upon them, as they are looking to you for guidance and leadership, as their role model. I did notice a very positive entry in this story….your sweet Mother came to dinner. I can see that she lives dangerously. I know that she taught you well, but it appears that you have not shared that training with your “dawgs.” Allow them to eat with you at the dinner table (in chairs at the table), so they feel welcome and included; however, they may still wander to the woodpile, ocassionally.


  3. Posted by Bonnie on August 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Your dogs were stoned. Plain and simple!


  4. Posted by cheri lasher on August 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I agree with Bonnie.


  5. Posted by Shaun on August 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Are you sure their names aren’t Cheech and Chong?! Remember dogs mimic their masters all too often…put that in your pipe and smoke it, dude!


  6. Posted by David on August 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Great Story, Van. My dogs will eat pretty much anything that comes out of the garden, be it animal or vegetable, but I can’t say they’re connoiseurs of fungus. By the way, Oh, Suzannah happens to be the only song I can play in its entirety on my harmonica. LOL.


  7. Posted by Helen on August 3, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I know ya turn your spellchecker off cuz it gets in the way of yer creatin’, but ‘femminine’? It made my proofreader anntennae tickle.

    (a note to Helen: Spelling has beeen correcteded.)


  8. Posted by Betty on August 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Well, I wont let Smokie outside for a while!!! He likes the figs and tries to chew the fig tree down to get them!
    Haven’t seen any mushrooms lately, probably ’cause we have had no rain since forever!
    Glad I didn’t have to clean up the mess your dawgs made!!

    luv u


  9. Posted by Frances on August 6, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Not much I can add to the comments above except that it sounds to me like the dawgs were seriously stoned. Is someone they know setting a bad example by imbibing on an unnamed substance from the crystal carafe? Of course I may just be jumping to conclusions.


  10. Posted by Robin Leonard on August 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Yep, those are definitely spiritual mushrooms.

    My cat jumps into a chair at the kitchen table whenever any of us are preparing a meal. He sits there very patiently, facing the table, occasionally turning his head to see whether progress is being made at the counter. He apparently can’t be taught, either. In spite of no positive feedback–such as getting his own chair and napkin–he remains persistent, probably thinking that his humans are very slow, but surely they will eventually catch on.


  11. Hi love this post, and I like the picture it paints of some of your life. We have a cat and a dog – the cat is, of course in charge!


  12. Posted by Marlene Humberd on January 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Now I know why all the neighbor dogs kept stopping by to visit us …to get a buzz …and we just thought it was because we were friendly ! ; ) Had a friend who was a mushroom connoisseur …would come out and hike all over the farm searching for the special ones to eat . Went hiking with him the first time, and I decided after an hour or so of detailed mushroom data, that I really didn’t want to sweat that much for a mushroom , or even care to know them( or him ) that well .Another good dog tale …gotta love em!


  13. lol, great tale, I think the dogs were on a fungi high too…


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