We had been trudging through the forest for hours with no luck. The cutting echo of three-day-old rain dripped splinters of moist chill deep into our bones. It was mid-fall, and the surrounding woods of San Miguel County seemed to pulse with signs of the coming winter. The canopy, consumed with the breathtaking reds of shedding leaves, contrasted the bright green moss rolling along the forest floor. My family and I were performing our yearly ritual of mushroom hunting. When the fall rains strike in sheets of gray and blue, it is a tradition to don our hiking boots, grab our mushroom knives, and travel deep into the woods. With baskets and foraging guide in hand, we search the forest floor for bolets, morels and, my personal favorite, chanterelles.
Although chanterelles are a bright hunters’ orange, they are almost impossible to find. This elusiveness, along with their sweet, soft flavor, makes them a prized delicacy. Many foragers mistakenly believe they can simply spot them along the trail, but one has to trek off-the-beaten-path, devoting all attention to the ground, in order to discover the caps. Chanterelles have another quality I appreciate. When you finally find one, peeking above the rotting leaves and moss-covered stumps, others begin to emerge from the scenery as if the forest is letting you in on a secret that gets deeper as you press it for answers.
I was beginning to lose hope and leaned against a tree sipping from my CamelBak. As the crests of snow-capped mountains filled my vision, I let my mind wonder:
I flashed back to a time when I could not see myself, because I was looking in all the wrong places. It was a late spring afternoon, and track practice was almost over. Wind danced in our ruffled hair as we ran, our bobbing figures bathed in filtered sunlight from clouds above. We were laughing and joking as we went.
Josh, a newer team member, slowed, and then… stopped. We all looked back as Josh crumpled like a rag-doll to the ground. It was not his first seizure, and we all knew what to do.
The air went silent. Suddenly, I was on my knees supporting his head from the concrete below. Someone dashed to inform Coach, while two pairs of hands rolled Josh onto his side. Just as quickly as it had started, it was over, his eyes snapping back into focus. He complained of a headache and asked if we’d seen a ghost. We all let out a sigh of relief and a nervous chuckle.
As I helped Josh to his feet, it struck me–It was on this team where I’d found myself. These people had readily helped me, just as we had helped Josh. In middle-school, I felt drowned in a sea of mediocrity constantly looking for land, and I’d found it in running. My team had kept me on course, driving me to be a better athlete, a better student, and better person. They helped me find purpose in struggle and value in a positive mindset. They had changed me and shown me the true boundless nature of life, of MY life. I looked at my team, their faces painted in orange from the afternoon sun. And that is when I saw him, myself, reflected in their intelligent, compassionate eyes.
Josh slung his arm around my shoulder, a sheepish smile pursing his lips, “You mind walking me back, Man?”
My sister called from 100 feet away, snapping me out of my reverie, “I found one! A chanterelle!” At that very instant I saw it. Just at my feet a speck of apricot staring at me through the backdrop of green. How could I have missed it before? I had finally found the orange Chanterelle. And as I looked around, more began to stare back with infinite possibility.