IMMORELITY COMES TO THE OREGON WOODS

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Wed Apr 29 12:21:05 EST 1998


The following first ran Sunday, November 25, 1990 in The Oregonian.

IMMORELITY COMES TO THE OREGON WOODS
By DAVID SARASOHN - of The Oregonian Staff

	Personally, I see it as kind of a Kevin Costner role. The camera sweeps
along the ridge to pick him up riding through the trees, and then sees him
stop, every sense alert, to dismount and get the drop on the rustlers. He
cocks his Winchester and says in a level voice, "Drop the mushrooms."
	Just when you'd thought things were bad enough in the woods - that
nobody's had this bad a year in the forest since Little Red Riding Hood -
comes the word of a new threat to Oregon's outdoor equilibrium. Down around
the state's southern mountains, there been an outbreak of mushroom rustling.
	The next step probably will be theft of views.
	According to Bill Reanier, special agent in charge of law enforcement in
the Winema National Forest, outlaw mushroom picking is starting to rival
timber theft and marijuana growing as the major crime in national forests.
	"Nobody paid much attention to it, and quite frankly, this year we just
got caught flat-footed," Reanier told The Associated press. "Events this year
are going to require that we come up with some kind of plan to be ready for it
next year when the season rolls around again."
	For this year, Reanier has added two new agents to the mushroom beat,
giving him a seven-man fungus force. Constantly, his troops are out patrolling
the fields, stopping outlaws and telling them that they're in serious truffle.
	Unfortunately, this being the 1990s, the mushroom thieves often are
heavily armed. While most people poach mushrooms with just a little white
wine, mushroom poachers in the forest might try an Uzi.
	This almost makes you long for the good old days, when the worst thing
that could happen to a mushroom picker was a liver transplant.
	There is, apparently, heavy cash in the mushroom business. What are called
pine mushrooms here are called in Japan matsutaki mushrooms - they sound
better already - and bring in serious yen. A pound of freshly picked
matsutakis sells for $10 to $14 here and then goes for $40 in Tokyo.
	And it's worth a lot more once you cut in and put it on the street.
	Chief Ranger George Buckingham told the AP that the rangers had
confiscated 500 pounds of illegally picked mushrooms and given out 15
citations. There numbers reflect, he things, only a small percentage of the
violations.
	In terms of the actual size of mushroom crime, this is just a mycocosm.
	And so, bit by bit, another Oregon tradition erodes. If it's not safe to
go mushroom hunting unless you have a concealed weapons permit, something
fairly central around here is going down the tubes.
	Come each fall, large numbers of Oregonians head out in quest of
chanterelles and other members of the fungal fraternity, many of the searchers
cherishing the secret of their own personal tree stump. While some of them
always have been commercially minded - a reference to Oregon on a New York
restaurant menu generally means wild mushrooms the way "Florentine" means
spinach - most have been out for personal use and what might be called the joy
of the hunt.
	Mushroom picking has been a sort of kinder, gentler equivalent of elk
hunting. Obviously, a lot of the experience is lost if you have to be equally
well-armed for both pastimes.
	Wild mushroom hunting, after all, carries its own subtler dangers,
allowing you to back your own judgment at stakes higher than any allowed in
Las Vegas. If you're willing to bet on your knowledge about nature, the quest
for wild mushrooms lets you put your mouth where you money is.
	I've never gone out on the trail myself, but I've been asked to judge wild
mushroom cooking contests, featuring entrants with unusual names and ungainly
appearances. The most vivid memory I have is of the expert commenting of one
dish, "Not very well-cleaned," and six forks hitting the table simultaneously.
	Like I say, a pastime with its own thrills.
	If this whole way of life is washed away by the two great trends of modern
American life - violence and stock speculation - an important part of Oregon
life, and especially Oregon autumns, will vanish.
	I don't know how Kevin Costner will deal with it, but to me, the situation
is immorel.

Note by poster: matsutaki is another spelling for matsutake, which means,
literally pine mushroom.

Daniel B. Wheeler
http://www.oregonwhitetruffles.com

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