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All about mushrooms.
Finding the thread through a tangled maze, kinship with all life, the links were clear, the DNA was the same; it was the same mushroom, the mycelia-bearing fruit. Clan wars scarcely touched Oregonians in the Willamette Valley, but the threads of life, the chaos of Asia, waged a silent war beneath the surface. Hmong, Mien, Cambodian, Laotian, Mexican, and redneck lived in uneasy peace near Chemult in the Cascades during mushroom picking season. Kuoy Loch, survivor of the killing fields of Cambodia, recounted, "I knew one man who gave up on mushrooms altogether one gusty day, after some trees dropped pinecones on his head."
Michu was Akha. These mountain people of northern Thailand had suffered as much as any of those in Southeast Asia. When the CIA secret wars and bombing campaigns disrupted life in Southeast Asia, the Akha refused to fight for the U.S. Their matriarchs were called shama from ancient Mongolian origins when they were a prosperous and proud people. For that reason, they were not allowed immigrant status to the U.S. Their children were systematically exploited in the sex trade, sold into brothels; young boys were exported to Saudi Arabia and buried in pits after being used. The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Ralph L. Boyce, was complicit, and quietly removed from office for running a pedophile ring.
Reed walked with Michu and Matthew in the forests on Tcha Ti Mon Wi. The children followed, as children everywhere, exploring flowers, slugs, and newts. Michu winced each time as Oregon slugs crossed their path. In the mountains of Thailand, slugs were like hooded cobra with poisonous venom that shriveled the limbs. Newts, while the most toxic creature in Oregon, were harmless unless ingested. In the mountains of Thailand, poisonous snakes abounded. Nowhere west of the Cascades were poisonous snakes endemic. The land was blessed. The weft of lifeforce remained intact in Oregon, unlike the cursed lands of Southeast Asia where Balance was destroyed.
That blessed abundance was imperiled by the curse of displaced Asians driven by greed, seeking the American dream, broken as a people by economic and military assault. One had only to look into the eyes of Asian women- seeking-men-sites on the Internet to see the glittering lure of despair beckoning. Kuoy said of Chemult, "It gets pretty wild. You get the drugs, the prostitution, the robbing at gunpoint, the gangbanging crap. While I was in Chemult, a Laotian woman was on trial for stabbing her husband to death with a kitchen knife and attempting to kill his second wife whom he'd married in the camp."
Reed drove to the coast in October seeking the prized porcini - Boletus edulis. The mushroom wars were over as the bottom dropped out of the market. Siberia was the new mushroom frontier. Southeast Asians in America were left to fend for themselves. Matsutakes were coming back and boletes were once again reviving after the dual assault of mushroom pickers and climate change. As Reed parked his truck at his patch, he was careful to conceal his picking bag. Some pickers followed pickers to their prime spots. Unfortunately, he found few boletes and saw the telltale cut marks of another picker.
Two days before his birthday, he decided to try again. It was a warm, sunny October day after a week of rain. The boletes were likely to be abundant. Sure enough, he found bolete after bolete, so much that the threads of his picking bag threatened to burst. He had beaten the worms and the pickers to his spot. Returning to Corvallis, he ventured into the Soup Shop with a prime specimen. Jeff looked interested, and followed him out to his truck. He purchased ten pounds and paid Reed on the spot. Both were overjoyed. Jeff had gotten a good deal and Reed had some badly needed cash.
Next morning, Reed awakened to learn that the Corvallis ski swap had begun, and he had no cash, but he decided to look anyway. At the fairgrounds, he spotted a new pair of boots and matched metal edged skis for exactly the price he had received for the mushrooms. He bought them and thanked Creator. Someone had remembered his birthday.
Later in the week, he drove up to see his 89-year-old skiing friend. Stuart had graduated from Harvard, worked in the oil business in Africa, and now was enjoying his retirement on his farm. He had solar and wood-fired heat, composting toilet, chickens, and goats. Recently, a stem cell therapy to replace knee cartilage required him to favor his knee. Reed came up to help cut and stack wood. Stuart appreciated the help and offered Reed 3 dozen eggs - much needed, as Reed's paying job appeared to be ending. After a dinner of lentil and sausage soup with salad, Reed and Stuart went out to the shop to clean and wax the skis from the swap meet.
The following day, Reed attended a bean and grain meeting to get local farmers and buyers together. Jeff, from the Soup Shop, was there and made several important contributions to the discussion. He thanked Reed for the porcinis and told him they had made a risotto that was delicious. Mark Stuart was also at the meeting and shared some of his Quinoa tempeh with those interested.
Reed called Mark about hooking him up with Jeff as a buyer. Mark agreed from his off-the-grid earthstation. Mark lived on 7 acres west of Tcha Ti Mon Wi, using solar photovoltaics, bicycle-driven thresher, honeybees, and an acre in vegetables and grains. Next, Reed called Jeff to confirm and Jeff invited him to sample some of the porcini soup. It was the best he had ever tasted!
At week's end, Reed prepared dinner alone - fresh butter boletes from the forest with curry and jasmine rice. Yakon from the farm added texture and extra nutrition. Garf, the cat, sat contentedly before the fire. The wild man from Alaska had left and the resident young couple were on vacation in California. Reed did not feel alone, bonded with the web of life. If Creator were honored, the Balance would remain.