Jesse Dolin's Side of the Mountain

Foraging on Oregon's Central Coast

Jesse could easily keep those mushroom patches for himself, but instead, he chooses to share his foraging skills and knowledge. The forests of the central Oregon coast are better off with Jesse leading us through them.

In 1959 author Jean Craighead George released the adventure novel My Side of the Mountain. The book tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who runs away from home and lives off the land in the Catskill Mountains. His home is a hollowed-out tree. He makes acorn powder pancakes and befriends forest animals.

My elementary school class read the book as part of a group assignment. Maybe it was Hatchet for you. But, My Side of the Mountain was my earliest introduction to foraging and living off the land. It planted seeds in me for future outdoor adventures and deeper connections to the natural world. To this day, when I see a hollowed-out tree in the forest, I still find myself thinking about that book.

Wildcraft

/ˈwīldkraft/

Gathering herbs, plants, mushrooms, and other materials from nature.

In the fall of 2020, I met a forager named Jesse Dolin. Jesse didn’t read My Side of the Mountain, but he has found his mountains on the central Oregon coast.

Jesse lives in Yachats, Oregon – a small coastal town of fewer than a thousand year-round residents. He’s tall with wavy brown hair and thin-framed glasses. He has a warm energy. I didn’t hug him when we first met. But I remember thinking that if I did, he probably wouldn’t mind. I honestly don’t know if that’s true, and you shouldn’t just throw out an uninvited embrace if you do meet him, but Jesse’s vibe is that of a hugger.

Jesse’s parents divorced when he was young. He split his time between northern California and Waldport, Oregon, just north of Yachats. Even at a young age, Jesse was passionate about the outdoors and foraging.

Coast town of Yachats, Oregon looking towards the Pacific Ocean

Yachats, Oregon

Renowned Chef Lee Gray, also known as the Wild Gourmet, lived on the Oregon coast and provided regular clinics and demonstrations for anyone who shared a passion for wildcraft. At a young age, Jesse attended one of Chef Gray’s clinics.

Chef Gray was a wild guy. He once lived in a sea cave for several months to connect with the land and local ingredients. I found one account of Chef Gray telling a Washington Post writer about experimenting with steamed sea anemone. According to the WaPo writer, Chef Gray told him that he ended up with a hole in his stomach and a trip to the hospital because he forgot to cut off the anemone’s tentacles. Chef Gray’s wild spirit and commitment to food helped nurture and reinforce Jesse’s passion for foraging. Chef Lee Gray passed away in 2016.

"I don't think I ever got enough of the bounty in the Northwest as a kid. All of the crabbing, fishing, and clamming. Going out and picking mushrooms in the woods. It's my heart's content."

Jesse Dolin - Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

As an adult, Jesse moved to Hawaii and worked in the art world opening galleries throughout the islands and on mainland America. In 2013 after 10 years on the islands, the call of the northwest was too loud to ignore. He bought a one-way ticket back to Oregon.

"When I first moved back to Oregon from Hawaii, I had mixed emotions about it. I traded in mangos and papayas for blackberries and apples. I see a lot of Hawaii here in the Northwest when the rhododendrons are in peak bloom. There's so much green and open space. My immediate reaction was - wow, this is my paradise."

Jesse Dolin - Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

Yachats and the Oregon coast truly are a paradise for foragers, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Salmon and mushrooms in the fall. Truffles and steelhead in the winter. Berries in the summer for jams and wine. And wild greens in the spring.

Foraging, or wildcraft, is romantic and empowering. An experienced forager walks through the forest with a tuned set of eyes. You may see a trail, trees, and the beautiful views around you, but a wildcrafter sees a bounty of foods, medicines, and experiences. That’s the kind of vision that a lot of people are searching for.

And the truth is, to safely learn wildcraft and responsibly harvest all of those natural gifts, you need a guide – a teacher. And that’s what Jesse Dolin is. He leads and inspires those who are ready to learn and connect with their food.

"I've always resisted the idea of being a fishing guide or to take anyone out in an extraction-based activity because certain things are sacred. I don't want to exploit these things that I love so much. But I also love when people get inspired to do something new. I want to be there for them. I want to help them get out in the woods and forage a meal. There's nothing more satisfying to me than going out and catching and picking dinner. It just feels good."

Jesse Dolin - Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

Imagine catching a salmon in a river during the early hours of the day. Then walking through the forest foraging mushrooms, berries, and greens, and cooking the day’s haul under towering cedars and doug firs. Misty mountains at your back and the smells of the ocean in the air. That’s an experience you won’t forget – not only because of the delicious natural culinary ingredients but because you helped catch and gather those foods. You worked for them. That kind of experience fills the belly, the brain, and the soul.

"Guided experiences give that opportunity to educate people. How to travel and move responsibly. How to travel like a local. One of the first things I tell people when I take them out to get some muscles is that they might be quick to go rock hopping out to look at that tide pool. They might look at those barnacles and mussels as traction so they don't slip on the rock. But those rocks are a cathedral of life that they're stepping on. Guides can help people understand that and be safe."

Jesse Dolin - Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

With Jesse’s help, the Oregon Coast Visitors Association’s Central Coast Food Trail will launch in the summer of 2022. The trail is a series of self-guided culinary experiences that spans Lincoln City to Florence. There’s fine dining, beer and wine, comfort foods, local seafood, and of course, coffee.

Food is something we can all get behind. The Central Coast Food Trail curates culinary memories that make the Oregon coast so much more than a day trip or weekend getaway. It’s a bridge that connects people, communities, and communal love for food.

"That fish is not just a piece of meat. It's not just a mushroom. When you harvest your own food, there's an experience attached to it. There's pride. I want people to experience that. One of my favorite things to do is to go out and harvest something and prepare a meal where I harvested it. You know how good food can taste when you go camping? It tastes even better when you find it yourself. There's nothing better to me than having a good meal with friends and talking about the fun we had collecting the ingredients."

Jesse Dolin - Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

Jesse led me into the forests near Yachats to introduce me to one of his foraging passions – mushrooms. On that cloudy fall day, Jesse’s sights were set on a large red and orange fungi called a lobster mushroom.

We parked our cars in a shallow turnout on a logging road and walked into the forest. Once you’ve been out with an experienced forager, it’s easy to understand why so many people end up lost while mushroom hunting. There’s no trail or obvious human-made markers. Foraging seems to be as much about finding foods as it is about navigating wilderness and tuning into the environment around you.

Jesse trekked delicately through trees. He would point out subtle mounds covered in pine needles or disturbances on the forest floor, and would quickly uncover mushrooms. It was humbling to watch. I’ve spent my entire life stomping through the woods and Jesse saw more in a few hundred feet of forest than I saw during the entire outing.

Jesse’s enthusiasm throughout our time in the woods added to the anticipation of the hunt. He was excited when he spotted mushrooms and was even more excited when I found them. With each discovery, Jesse shared insights about the type of mushroom, its uses, potential dangers, and responsible harvest methods. He wasn’t just showing us mushrooms – he was teaching.

I don’t doubt that Jesse has a few secret spots that are only for him, but the knowledge he possesses about wildcrafting is for everyone and he eagerly shares it. At one point I asked Jesse about the bucket he uses to carry mushrooms. The three-gallon bucket had several holes drilled through the bottom. I assumed the holes were for drainage, but Jesse explained that the holes allow spores to fall off the mushroom through the bucket and back onto the ground where they can grow. Even while harvesting mushrooms he’s giving back to the forest.

One of the more exciting finds during our mushroom clinic was a less common cauliflower mushroom. Jesse explained that it was a significant discovery not only because of its size but also because of the time of year – it was still early in the season.

He explained the flavor perfectly. We confirmed that later in the day when we cooked a tasty pan full of mushrooms basted in butter. Up to that point, I didn’t know a lobster mushroom from a cauliflower but his excitement made the entire experience feel more exclusive and special. It became a treasure hunt and we found the booty.

Jesse Dolin stands for a portrait in the forest after foraging for mushrooms on the Oregon coast

Jesse Dolin – Central Coast Destination Coordinator, Oregon Coast Visitors Association

In My Side of the Mountain the reader explores the main character’s evolution from a city dweller to a thriving mountain man. The runaway boy learns about plants, animal behaviors, and weather. Through all of those experiences, he learns to be part of nature. And I think that’s one of the most relatable and shared goals I’ve found throughout all of the people I’ve met who are passionate about the outdoors. We all just want to understand, respect, and be closer to nature. We all want to be part of the mountains. Foragers are just a little farther along on that journey than I am.

The appeal of foraging and living off of the land has skyrocketed in recent years. I understand why – it’s romantic and empowering. It’s also overwhelming with serious consequences if you don’t know what you’re doing. As Jesse says – there are better ways to die than eating the wrong mushroom.

Jesse could easily keep those mushroom patches for himself, but instead, he chooses to share his skills and knowledge. The forests of the central Oregon coast are better off with Jesse leading us through them.

If you have an appetite for a deeper connection to food and nature, Jesse Dolin will be there to guide you along your journey.

Jesse Dolin is the Central Coast Destination Coordinator for the Oregon Coast Visitors Association. You can contact him directly at ddcentral@thepeoplescoast.com.

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Linda Ostro
Linda Ostro
24 days ago

Great story about Jesse! I have known him since he was a child and he always inspired wonder for the world around us! You couldn’t have a better guide.

Lena Tabori
23 days ago

Well, obviously my next move is to connect with Jesse for a trip next summer. What a divine article about an apparently heavenly person. I will also link to this piece on my website, Climatechangeresources.org. Eating locally, wasting little, burning up few carbon footprints — this suits the world we want to build — perfectly.

Guthrie Dolin
Guthrie Dolin
20 days ago

Great article!!! Jesse is truly an easy guy to hug. But then again, as his brother, I’m a tad bias.

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