Of Motherhood and Mushrooms
In the online enclave of fungi fanatics, Rachel Zoller made a name for herself—literally. She assumed the moniker Yellow Elanor, a reference to Tolkien lore, when she started an Instagram account dedicated to mushroom foraging in the Pacific Northwest. Since then, the nom de ‘shroom has grown into a brand with fans of its own, and Rachel now balances the demands of running a small business with her job as an elementary school teacher, all while parenting her two children alongside her partner, Trevor.
Despite growing up not far from her current home in the Columbia River Gorge, Rachel’s fungi fixation is relatively recent. She lived an active outdoor lifestyle as a child, with family members who led fishing, rafting, and hunting trips, but “it wasn’t until adulthood that I was on a hike with someone who pointed out chanterelles,” she says. “I had never heard the word before.” Chanterelles are popular edible mushrooms that grow mostly in the fall. Rachel took some home and couldn’t believe how flavorful they were.
“I don’t just want to teach people how to identify an edible mushroom—I want people to walk away with a deep understanding so they start to see how connected everything is.”
Thus began a deep dive into the world of mycology. “The intrigue came from growing up in this place that I thought I knew really well, but that had this whole dimension I wasn’t aware of that just blew me away.”
Mushrooms can be easy to miss, but they reveal interesting, even startling, information about our world. Fungi are more closely related to people than plants, a fact that isn’t always easy to hear. “It was hard to wrap my head around it,” Rachel says. “But it makes so much sense when you think about the shared characteristics of fungi and humans. The way we digest things, the way we respirate by inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide; fungi have all that!”
She now leads guided forages for other aspiring mushroom hunters, and this lesson has inspired how she teaches. “I don’t just want to teach people how to identify an edible mushroom—I want people to walk away with a deep understanding so they start to see how connected everything is.”
For Rachel, it’s all part of living simply and learning to appreciate life on a deeper level. “It’s about finding satisfaction in things money can’t buy,” she says. “I’ve never felt comfortable having a lot of gear or things I need to take care of. With mushroom hunting, you don’t need much: just a basket and a knife.”
Mushroom hunting is about the process more than the score. It takes effort, but it’s a mindful exercise that forces you to slow down, look closer, and notice the details. There’s always something new to discover and learn, even on days when you come back empty-handed. It’s a philosophy that Rachel has been able to apply equally to parenting, where she has learned to emphasize the journey over the outcome.
Foraging has given Rachel’s sons, River, 7, and Marcus, 9, many educational opportunities, but it’s also provided an environment “to show some of their strengths,” she says. They’ve become quite adept mushroom hunters themselves, sometimes employing rather unorthodox techniques. “River was chasing a lizard that led him under a log where he found the biggest morels I’ve ever seen,” Rachel recalls with a laugh.
“Kids are constantly saying, ‘Look at this!’ and are amazed by everything. It’s hard to do that as an adult. But foraging is a way to remind myself how that feels. It’s something we can share.”
But it’s more than fun and games. Finding edible mushrooms has empowered Marcus and River with a sense of pride. They get excited when they find them and love talking about how they’re going to prepare them (adding them to homemade pizza is their favorite). “Kids don’t often get the chance to be providers in the house, but when they do, they really enjoy it,” Rachel says. It’s also allowed Marcus to reveal his talent as a natural teacher. He came up with the idea to do an educational video on fungi for a class project, which now lives on the Yellow Eleanor YouTube channel.
As much as foraging has helped her children grow, it has been equally important in inspiring a childlike wonder within Rachel, herself. “Kids are constantly saying, ‘Look at this!’ and are amazed by everything. It’s hard to do that as an adult,” she says. “But foraging is a way to remind myself how that feels. It’s something we can share.”
For now, her kids remain young enough to still look forward to “mom time,” including playing in the woods and helping package up Yellow Eleanor merchandise for customers. But they’re also starting to have interests of their own. Marcus recently started playing baseball and schedules are starting to fill up.
Since Trevor moved in a year ago, things have gotten smoother, but the never-ending exhaustion of parenthood remains. “I make lists. I make calendars. I have a schedule. But I have to be OK to let it be completely obliterated.”
Life, as in mushroom hunting, is something you can prepare for but never fully predict. Some days you walk away with nothing. Others, a lizard leads you to gold. But when you’re present in the moment, through challenges and triumphs, you may find the secret to a fulfilling life is right under your feet, if you only remember to look.