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Farewell to Sparky!

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Farewell to Sparky!


 Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

It is my sad duty to report that Sparky, my partner and mushroom hunting companion has passed away. It has taken me several months to be able to write about this. He was a joyful, happy companion. Sparky had a wonderful personality. He was engaging to everyone he met. He loved to play and always had a smile on his face. He attracted people. The stick was his way of communicating. He would drop it at your feet and begin talking to you with his eyes. You learned quickly what he wanted. Throw that stick.

As a puppy, he entertained himself by the hours chasing birds, treeing raccoon’s and running the fence line with the neighboring horses. Many times I saw the horses come up the the fence and initiate the chase with Sparky. He always obliged. It was with great joy he lived his life. He was renowned for his gentleness with everyone, particularly children.

As my mushroom partner, Sparky was an asset. He always kept track of me and anyone who was in our group while in the woods. He made people at ease going into the forest. His presence gave confidence and led to success.

Sparky died as he lived right to the very end. He began to have difficulty with breathing this summer once the weather became very hot weather. It did not like the 100 degree temperatures and became increasingly uncomfortable. Despite my best efforts at making Sparky comfortable, he succumb to a hidden heart problem. His last day was, however, a good one for both of us. It was Sunday, July 12, 2015. By early afternoon, he had drank some broth and water. I asked him did he want to go for a car ride. He immediately jumped up and smiled, You Betcha! I led him out to my truck and opened the door. I wasn’t sure he would be able to get in but he jumped right up into his seat. We drove out to my friend, Peggy’s, 30 acre farm  that Sparky had spent many days. We got out and walked around the gardens and fields. Sparky did his dog thing, smelling and greeting the other dogs there. After a couple of couple of hours we went into the house. Sparky laid down and Peggy and I chatted. After about 1/2 an hour or so, I said “Where is Sparky?”. I could see him but I wanted to let him know I was thinking about him. He looked up and spotted me. He slowly got up and walked into the adjoining room. He found one of his favorite “squeaky” toys. We followed him in the room. He was squeaking the toy and then gave it to Peggy who squeaked a couple of times and gave it back to Sparky.

What happened next, happened very quickly. Sparky had the toy in his mouth. Suddenly, he dropped and just keeled over toward his left side. As he did, his legs stretched out and he let out a low howl followed by a short yip. By this time both Peggy and I were holding him and talking to him. It was thus that Sparky died at home surrounded by those who loved him. It was over in 10-15 seconds. I would like to think the final yip was him saying goodbye. May I be so fortunate!

Today, Sparky can be seen as a shadow still playing with the birds, squirrels, other dogs and raccoon’s on Peggy’s farm. He has a beautiful view of Goat Mt and sleeps beneath the maple, chestnut and oak trees. May he rest in peace.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #9 – Fire Starters

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Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #9 – Fire Starters

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

Sparky has been on a hiatus of late. He has been in rehab for some undisclosed injuries. It’s hard work being a working dog. We wish him the best. He seems to be in top form again.

Fire starters are one of the essential pieces of equipment you should always carry when venturing out into the great outdoors. If you get lost (which will be covered in a future Tip of the Week) or injured and unable to walk out, making a fire in any weather is a key to survival and being rescued.

Whether you are going to an outdoor store or looking online for fire starters there appears to a plethora of products you can purchase. Sparky, the dog will guide you to what is really necessary to carry. The mail order online stores such as REI, Cabela’s & LL Bean have numerous items available priced from under $2 to $59.99.

Sparky’s recommendations: If you have been reading Sparky’s tips, you know he goes for functional, low cost and efficient. You need two things to start a fire: fuel and heat source.


For fuel: REI has several inexpensive items to choose.

Steve's wax lint firestarter

Steve’s wax lint fire starter

Fire starters made at home for free using old candles, string, used fabric softener sheet and dryer lint. Place lint in softener sheet, use string to tie into a ball. Use an egg carton and place the ball of lint in the egg holder. Melt the old candles or paraffin wax in an old saucepan. Pour the liquid wax over the lint balls soaking it and let dry. Place a couple of waxed balls in a small container with a cover in your backpack or pocket. They should burn for at least 15 minutes, long enough to get even damp kindling burning.

UCO Survival Matches

For a heat source: REI has several UCO brand survival matches. Some can be submerged in water and light. They are very useful in our typically wet autumn, winter and spring weather.

Sparky says: If you want a real adventure, join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Media features

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Tours with Steve have been featured in two recent media outlets:

June 2013 edition of Northwest Boomer & Senior News by Maggie White and photography by L. E. Baskow

June 21, 2013 Editions of KATU 2 Reel People, the mushroom hunter. http://www.katu.com/news/local/Reel-People-You-should-be-excited-to-see-mushrooms-212622581.html

Take a moment to view this interesting video about mushroom hunting in the Mount Hood National Forest. Thanks to Michael Warner!

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #8 – Safety Equipment

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #8 – Safety Equipment

Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky


Safety Equipment is essential to having a good and safe experience. You can never predict when a disaster will happen.

“Be Prepared” is a Boy Scout’s motto, so always go prepared. Do not leave it in the vehicle either.

When mushroom hunting, you are most often off trail and in the wilds, so being prepared can save your life

On Your Body:

—   Polyester or wool clothes + (During hunting season, advise wearing orange or red)

—   Rain pants +

—   Rain jacket +

—   Sturdy boots, water resistant or water proof +

—   Hat – appropriate for conditions +

—   Gloves

—   Wristwatch +

—   Compass + & mirror +

—   Whistle +

—   Hand lens

—   FRS walkie-talkie radio (optional)

—   GPS (optional)

—   Gaiters

—   Flashlight (small) & extra batteries

For Collecting Mushroom

—   Container, basket or bucket +

—   Knife, brightly marked +

—   Waxed bags (optional)

—   Foam head paint brush

In Your Backpack

—   Good map of area +

—   Lunch +

—   Water +

—   Extra clothes +

—   Sunscreen

—   Insect repellent

—   Trowel & toilet paper +

—   Field guide and keys + (All the Rain Promises, and More… by David Arora)

—   Spore making equipment (white & black paper)

—   Notebook & pencil

—   Camera

—   Emergency blanket +

—   First aid kit +

—   Matches (waterproof) or lighter*and fire starter

—   Walking stick

—   Bring a permit for the respective National Forest, if needed.

               +  =  Essential equipment to take into the field.

Sparky’s recommendations:

Sparky says: bring at least all the + items above.

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour.      Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #7 – Outdoor Clothes

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #7 – Outdoor Clothes

Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky


Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights. And now some more timely Tips from Sparky.

This is tough subject for Sparky to discuss because he is not much of fashion icon. He only has one coat and he has had it since birth. Consequently, he has asked me to share some of my thoughts. I will start from the bottom up.

Shoes: Shoes maybe the most important item in terms of comfort and safety. Often when in the forest in the autumn on Mt Hood it is raining or as we like to say ‘dumping on us with liquid sunshine’. Be that as it may, you need knobby or lug sole that do not slip for safety. Waterproofness is a real bonus to comfort. Ankle support is beneficial climbing over blown down trees and uneven ground.

Rubber boots

Rubber boots can keep you dry but they offer little or no support.

Rain gear: Do you want day in the woods to be a short miserable trip or an all day blast walking in the rain finding many golden treasures. Even if it is not raining, the foliage is often wet because it just stopped raining. If don’t have rain gear, you will soon be soaked to the bone.


Rain gear

Gloves: I could write a book about this topic. I must have twenty different kinds of gloves for different jobs and occasions. I have cotton, leather, rubber, coated cotton, rubber-dipped cotton, gardening, dress, winter, GORE-TEX ®, nitrite gloves, fingerless, wool, and more.


Work gloves

Hats: This is another favorite subject and everyone has an opinion. I used hats with wide brims all the way around and a chinstrap if in heavy brush. I use wool in the winter, cotton in spring & summer.


Wool hat and scarf

Pants: In dry weather, denim cotton is fine but in wet weather, you are miserable and subject to hypothermia. Wool pants are good but heavy. We live in a blessed time with many new synthetic fabrics that resist water and wear as well as being lightweight.

Shirts: Stay away from cotton except in the warmer weather. Synthetic fabrics are better and dry faster.

Underwear: Do not forget this important piece of personal equipment. Again stay away from cotton. It is comfortable to wear in the warm summer weather but not in the fall and winter when you will be exerting yourself and sweating. Having wet clothes next to you skin tends to cool your body. Not a good idea when it is cold and wet outside.


Sparky’s recommendations: Dogs have it made in the shade. When they get wet, they just shake the water off….on me. Stay away from cotton fabrics as much as possible, including underwear. There is wonderful wicking and quick drying clothes fabrics available today. Invest in your comfort and safety.

Boots: get leather boots with lug soles and waterproof the heck out of them. It works!

Outdoor boots

Rain Gear: GORE-TEX ® is great stuff and lightweight. GORE-TEX ® waterproofing needs to be renewed occasionally.

Official Gore-Tex® Label

Gloves: get cheap nitrite gloves at the pharmacy because it will protect your fingers and keep them warm plus get fingerless wool gloves to put over the nitrite gloves to keep your hands warm. Wool even when wet will keep your hands warm. Using the combination keeps your hands warm, protected and dry but allows good tactile dexterity to touch and feel.

Hats: Whatever works for you works for me. I use an old Pendleton felt wool hat with wide brim in wet weather. It keeps my head warm and dry. In the warmer, dryer weather, I found this hat at the Army surplus store. It is a camouflage hat with brim to keep the sun off my neck for $3.50.

My Winter Hat

Cameo Hat






Pants: After years of looking for the perfect pants, I found in L.L.Bean catalog the upland briar pants. They have a GORE-TEX

version that is perfect for fall and winter excursions into the forest.

Shirts:  Use synthetic fabric; my preference is for Patagonia brand clothes. Much of what I have, I purchased I have used continuously for over 23 years and it still look almost new. Amazing clothes!

Underwear: Find wicking synthetic fabric underwear. It is available today in short and longjohn versions. It can be found in your better quality outdoors stores, like REI and Patagonia

Sparky Says: Use synthetic fabrics as much as possible to wick away moisture from your skin. Wool is a second best. With cotton fabrics, you will not often notice the wetness until you have to stop. When wet a chill followed by hypothermia. This can happen very quickly. Proper clothes are very important for personal safety. One mistake could be fatal.

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #4 – GPS Receivers

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           Tips by Sparky

Tips by Sparky

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #4 – GPS Receivers

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

GPS Receivers

GPS Receivers are high tech equipment commonly used in car, boats, cell phones and hand held units. The value of the GPS Receivers is to give real time location within 10 feet 95% of the time using a network of 24 orbiting satellite. In urban area, GPS units are usually very functional.

You can choose from many different models of GPS Receivers. They can be loaded with either road maps or topographical maps or both. If you are going off-trail, topographical maps are recommended.

Here is some common features on GPS Receivers

  1. Tracking waypoints & routes
  2. Built in memory
  3. Camera & video
  4. Water resistance
  5. Barometric altimeter
  6. Wireless communication
  7. Tracker/Satellite messaging units
  8. Adding additional maps

When choosing a GPS Receivers you must consider what your main purpose is; off-trail or road or both.

Sparky’s recommendations: If you have been reading Sparky’s recommendations, you know by now to stay away for all the bells & whistles. Get a unit that will do exactly what you want to do. That is to get you from point A to B and back again. Make sure it is loaded with road & topographical maps of where you want to go. Units are generally not preloaded with topographical maps. If you are a road hunter, you may not need topographical maps.

The best thing about GPS Receivers is you still need a map and compass. Yup! That’s right. If you batteries fail or you are unable to get a signal because of tree cover, sunspot interference or you are at the bottom of a canyon, what good are GPS Receivers? You are probably going to have to take a class to learn how to best use your GPS Receivers units.

Bottom line is if you like playing with new technology, get one of these units. If you want to find your way around the wood and make it back home, stick with the reliable analog baseplate compass. Take a map & compass class; it will be much more useful.  For more info on compasses, see Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1.

Additional note: Many smart phones include GPS apps but these do not offer the same mapping and route planning capabilities as entry-level GPS Receivers.

Expect to pay $89 to $600 at any good outdoor store like REI, Cabellas, L. L. Bean.

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #3 – Two-way Radios

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- Tips by Sparky

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

Radios for the forest.

When going out into the forest with a group (more than one person) mushroom hunting, a radio is very helpful.  Being able to communicate easily saves your vocal cords from having to yell “Hey, I just found the Mother lode!!!” Instead, you can say “Code 4” which means ‘Hey, I just found the Mother lode!!!’. It is much easier. So what do you look for when you purchase a two-way radio?  Here are some questions to ask:

Does it have?

  1. Waterproofness
  2. Headset Jack
  3. Battery life
  4. Type of battery
  5. Combo w/GPS
  6. Combo w/weather channel
  7. Range (i.e. Watts)
  8. Type of channels GMRS or FRS
  9. Number of channels
  10. Belt clips
  11. Repeater function
  12. Weight

Sparky’s recommendations: Let see, you go out with your main squeeze hunting mushrooms and she is hunting in the next county so Sparky recommends you get a radio with 100-mile range. Let us get real here folks, you might get ¼ mile or so away from someone so why get something you can bounce signals off the moon.

A FRS radio has up to a stated 2 mile range (do not believe it, it is more like 1/2 mile). This is usually adequate. A radio with FRS channel does not require a special FCC license.

If however, you do not plan to stay together or you are into POWER, it is recommended to get a more powerful 2 to 5 watt radio with a stated range up to 36+ miles(perhaps 5 miles).  A GMRS radio with longer range requires a FCC license. Visit www.fcc.gov for more information on licensing (Form 605). Current cost for license is $85.

Here is the reality about radio’s. Terrain, weather and obstruction are going to have a bigger influence on reception than anything else does. Those manufacturer’s mileages are based upon talking with a clear line of sight with no interferences.  If you are in the woods, mountains, trees, rock and even your body are all going to interfere.

Waterproofness is nice but Sparky make me keep my radio inside my jacket on a lanyard. I have not had a problem.

I like rechargeable batteries because I am cheap and it is a good green alternative. Nevertheless, I always carry extra alkaline batteries as backup.

As for the other features, let you budget rule. Having a weather channel is fine if you are planning a multi-day venture. You should be checking the weather before you head out.  Remember a smart phone is often not effective in the forest, unless you are in a urban forest. Where Sparky goes there is usually no cell phone coverage. This is why a good 2-way radio is essential.

Expect to pay for a pair $30-$445  at any good outdoor store like REI, Cabellas, L. L. Bean

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure. (Roger! over and out!)

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #2 – Whistles

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Tips by Sparky

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #2 – Whistles

Sparky has decided to write his own  outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights.

What kind of whistle do I need?

Good question! If you are heading out to the forest, you must have a whistle. Traditionally, the most common whistle is the pea whistle;

Pea Whistle

you know the one with the little pea inside the whistle. However, you want the loudest whistle available, and one that is heard over a long distance. I have two recommendations; both can be purchased from REI either in their store or on their website at www.rei.com.




1. Rescue Howler by SOL—110 dB audible over 1 mile. (carry ear plugs)

Rescue Howler by SOL







2. Tri-Power Whistle by REI—produces three different pitches and is very loud.

Tri-Power Safety Whistle


Sparky recommendations: Sparky make me carry both of these whistles whenever I am in the forest. If I am separated from the group or get into trouble, the whistle is to call for help. Again, purchase a single function whistle. Expect to pay $4-5 each.

Remember: 3 blasts on the whistle mean “Help! I am in Danger!! Send Help!”

Purchase at any good outdoor store like REI

Sparky says: join Steve at www.tourswithsteve.com for a mushroom tour. Click here for a free emailed brochure.

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Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1 – Compasses

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Sparky’s Tips

Sparky has decided to write his own outdoor column called “Sparky’s Tip of the Week”. He hopes you enjoy some of his insights

Sparky’s Tip of the Week #1 – Compasses

If you are heading off to the forest without a guide, you need a good compass—your life may depend on it. Walking through the forest is not the same as walking down the street in a city. There are no signposts and often no trails. If it is cloudy or raining, direction becomes difficult to impossible to figure out. Your only means of direction is using your compass. Wear your compass on a lanyard around your neck so it is easy to find and use. Lanyards are easy to find at an outdoor store.

Compass—What to look for:

  • Bezel degree intervals—compasses with needle use a magnetized needle that aligns with the earth’s magnetic field. The bezel outer ring is mark in degrees from 0 °-360 ° degrees.
  • Liquid filled—for a steady needle to allow precise compass readings.
  • There are other optional features to get with your compass depending upon your budget.
    • Declination adjustment
    • Ruler
    • Map scales
    • Luminous needle and bezel ring
    • Clinometers
    • Sighting mirror
    • Global needle—for use in the Southern Hemisphere




Compass—What you do not need:

  • Combination compasses with whistle and mirrors or any other accessory are useless – unless you want to explore your fenced backyard. These compasses are too small to be practicable and the whistles are not loud enough to hear unless you are standing next to the person who is blowing it. If you want a compass and whistle, purchase them separately and get good quality. Your life may depend upon them.




What do you really need?

Sparky says you need a big enough baseplate compass that has large readable Bezel degree intervals and a directional arrow. Liquid filled is a bonus. All the other option, bell & whistles are wonderful but not necessary. My Boy Scout compass that I have used for over 50 years is not liquid filled and works great.  Expect to pay $14 and up. Any good outdoor store                                                like REI, Cabella’s, L. L. Bean

Baseplate Compass

Take a basic navigation class, too. Having a compass on you will do you no good if you do not know how to use it. You are just as lost as if you did not have one. In addition, you can get your 15 minutes of fame on local TV News when the Search & Rescue people have to find you.

Sparky’s says Steve at ToursWithSteve.com teaches basic compass navigation before heading out into the forest. Click here to get a brochure e-mailed to you.


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3 Things to look for when hunting wild edible morel mushrooms on Mt Hood

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1. Weather—what has the weather been like? Warm, cool, rainy or dry will encourage or discourage fungi mycelium growth. What I look for is a wet period followed by a warm, dry weather spell.  A good website for weather is: Weather Underground http://www.wunderground.com/ 

2.  Habitat—morel mushrooms they can grow virtually anywhere.  They can grow solitary, in groups, scattered along the edge of woods, in burns, in urban areas, in bare soil, intermixed with groundcovers, along railroad tracks, orchards, paths, under leaves, under logs, under brush piles, in grassy areas, in shade, in sun, in part shade. You get the idea! Pretty much wherever they darn well please.

Morel habitat

3.  Identification of true morel—true morels have hollow cap and stem with the cap intergrown with the stem.  If they have solid like or cottony pith centers in the stem, or the cap is not attached to the stem, or no stem they can be Verpa, Gyromitra or Hevella.  It is generally not recommended to eat these genera. If eaten it should be done with caution. They are, in any case, much less tasty than true morels (Morchella)















True Morel with hollow center


If you want to learn how to identify wild morel mushrooms, call Steve at TourWithSteve.com and join one of our foraging tours into the wilds of Mt Hood.

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