The underside of a mushroom
My Aunt BB has a good Japanese American friend named Keniche. His family, who almost all live in or around Seattle, have a tradition of mushroom hunting on the base of Mt. Rainier. These mushrooms only grow wild, cannot be cultivated and are considered a delicacy by many Asian cultures, especially the Vietnamese and Japanese. The French prefer a different mushroom that can also be found growing wild on the base of Mt. Rainer. Keniche invited us to come along on their adventure, well we actually invited ourselves, but who is really counting.
The day of mushroom hunting, starts with three little chickens running around the apartment with their heads cut off, as Buttercup anxiously looks on at the crazy humans. The mushroom hunting family tradition goes like this: meet at 85 year old mother's house, drive to secret mushroom location in inconspicuous, camouflage vehicles, making sure guests are blindfolded, search the woods for delicious mushroom while trying not to fall on butt on steep and slippery mountainside, after mushrooms are gathered a picnic ensues, potluck style, and if the crop of mushrooms is plentiful, cook a magnificent Japanese meal with said mushrooms. But we must return to the beginning of the story, headless chickens. Our contribution is dessert and salad to the potluck. However we are not overly prepared in the morning and we have a few setbacks, mainly dressing appropriately. Although the weather report forecasts a cold, yet dry day, they are only correct in the prediction of cold because it is far from dry, quite the opposite, one might even say wet. We wake up to a dreary, cold and rainy day, and realize we are not prepared for this type of weather. Our cold weather clothes are locked away in the forbidden vacuum sealed bags, that are only to be opened on our arrival or by a serious force of nature out of our control (according to my husband who had the pleasure of closing the bags in the first place.) We scrimmage through BB's clothing, for me not for Kyle. We throw many layers of clothing on, chop up veggies, run around in circles, search for our heads, and head out the door, late, for Keniche's mom's house. The family going today consists of the mom, the three (grown up) brothers, including Keniche, two daughters from one of the brothers, two cousins of the brothers, a great uncle and tiko the chow/lab mix dog who in my humble opinion, had the best time out of anyone on the trip. We head out to the secret location, and although we are not actually blindfolded, it is important that we keep this location a secret. The Vietnamese and others forage all of the other good mushroom spots and sell the mushrooms for a very lucrative profit to the tune of $40/Ib. They ask that we do not divulge this secret to anyone. I assure them, I have no idea where I am, and my direction sense dictates that what is in front of me is North, and what is behind is South, therefore, even if I was being held hostage and tortured for the location of these wonderful mushrooms, I would not be able to disclose their precious secret. We are handed walking sticks made from old pool table sticks and given a general description of what the mushroom looks like and where it might be found. Under the canopy of the forest, the rain is lessened, however the cold is increased. It seeps through my pants, and underpants and slithers around my legs.. The floor is squishy beneath my feet, the dead pine needles and leaves piled one on top of another until the entire floor is slippery, bouncy, uneven moonbounce. I wonder at the process beneath my feet, death and decay giving way to new life. Forests are amazing organisms living, dying, creating, destroying, but it is all part of a cycle. Death and destruction are not feared and loathed because from that death and destruction comes new life and restored health. Wildfires which occur naturally in nature are good for the growth of forests, not good for the people or homes that we have built in or around the forest, but part of the natural cyclical life of the forest. I crane my neck to look at the trees surrounding me, and realize that these ginormous, moss covered trees are older than me, older than my grandmother, they are centuries old. The dark and damp forest holds secrets deep in the roots of the trees. Did Tolkein have it right when he wrote that about the Ents, speaking and moving trees that are as old as anything, and wise from centuries of living. Were these century old trees wise? Did they hold close secrets unknown to anyone else on Earth? As I hunt for the mushrooms, I feel like the ginseng hunter from the book I just finished. I often transport myself into the characters in my book, but this scenario works out perfectly. This Chinese man has spent his entire life hunting ginseng in the mountains. As a boy, his father tells him, "Listen to the woods, it will give you the answers if you just listen." The sparrows song leads them to their beloved plant. He spends his life in solitude, finding joy only in hunting ginseng. I am no hunter, be it animal, ginseng or mushroom, but the woods force me to look within like no other place. My senses leap around like a jumping jellybean. Childlike joy, curiosity, inspiration, and fear are all emotions that swirl, and entangle themselves in my ribcage and around my kidnies. I pretend to look for mushrooms for a while longer, but having no luck, partially because I am not trying very hard, but also because there are no mushrooms to be found. I move my gaze from the floor of the forest to the location where the mountain top used to be visible. A cloud of whiteness has not only intimidated any bit of blue and grey into hiding, but has now taken over the top of the mountain. The whiteness moves quickly encompassing anything that stands in it's path. It is moving closer creeping towards us, slipping and sliding over moss covered stumps, decomposing logs, and the tallest trees. It is like the blob from the 1950's horror film, gathering speed and size as it eats it's prey. I wonder what it will feel like to be eaten by the white blob, but as quickly as it came, it descends back into the forest. The whiteness and it's mist/rain has spared us for the time being.
After an hour of searching and no mushrooms, not even rotting or eaten mushrooms, the search is over. This year is one of empty boxes. One of Keniche's brothers explains that sometimes they fill boxes full, while other years they go home empty handed. Maybe next year will be better. We spread our food out on picnic tables under an awning in a national park, to protect ourselves from the rain, but it does nothing to keep out the cold. The tip of my nose matches Rudolf, but I am enjoying myself and I love a good potluck. The spread is a very interesting compilation; rice, hot tea, teriyaki weenies, boiled eggs, sliced pork, green beans, spam sushi rolls, yes spam, pasta salad, not to mention our cucmber, tomato, avocado salad, and blondies. Most of the family ate with chop sticks, but I could hardly hold a fork with my ice-cold fingers, let alone chop-sticks. I even sometimes resorted to just my fingers. Keniche's family was friendly, hospitable and a very enjoyable bunch. We had a wonderful day exploring with them. We came home with empty pockets but full tummies and a bowl of good solid fun.
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