Jed showed up to fish one morning and before we hit the road, he handed me a single, perfect matsutake mushroom. I stashed it in my pocket, and from time to time throughout the day, I’d catch whiffs of the unique scent–a mix of pine trees, cinnamon and something earthy and mushroom-y. Someone once described matsutakes as smelling like red hots in a dirty sweat sock, but I don’t get the sweat sock part. They just smell delicious to me. More than once, my mouth watered at the thought of it.
Fast forward to dinner prep. Bruce and Aaron had a stack of enormous moose steaks; Calvin and April ran out to the truck, dug through a cooler, and produced a deer backstrap; Yvon broke out a magnum of Chateau Musar Bruce had given him; Rick was outside burning logs into perfect barbecue coals. I washed some rice, added the hydrating water from dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt. Then, with great anticipation, I cut into that gorgeous matsutake. Inside, something moved. It was alive with small, white maggots. I recoiled. What to do? Figured I should give the crew the option. I showed them the wriggling mushroom slices and said we can either add it to the rice as planned, or toss it out and just go with plain rice. Someone said, “The rice is going to boil, right?” Another said, “Hate to waste a good matsutake.” There was a moment of silence, then the crew voted “Go for it” without objection.
It was delicious. And part of one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. Great food, great friends, great spirits. And a few maggots just to keep things on the adventurous side.
These days, it’s easy to make a list of negative things in the world (hard to resist starting with our new president’s list of candidates to fill his cabinet) but as attractive as that exercise is, I’m not going there today. Instead, on the eve of this holiday, I offer a list of gratitude:
To Skyla and Weston, who fill my days with light, and still want to fish with their Old Man; To my mom, dad, brother and extended family near and far; Old friends–from Bainbridge, Seattle, and Olympia to Rockaway Beach, Corvallis, Terrace, Ventura, the Rockies, the Outer Banks and beyond–who I love so much I can hardly believe we aren’t related by blood. To new friends and adventures ahead. To heroic First Nations fighting to protect fish and water at Lelu Island, the Skeena, and Standing Rock. To a yellow lab named Halo who reminds us to find happiness every minute of every day. To cold, clean water and big, wild, chrome fish fresh from the sea.
I am thankful for health, happiness and good luck, for opportunities to work for the good of our planet, for the words of Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane and Brian Doyle, for the taste of spring Chinook and wild ducks, elk, deer, for time on the water and in the woods making memories with family and friends… It turns out, this list could go on much longer than the list of negatives that’s been floating through my mind these last few months, and for that, I am truly thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Peace.
…the tough make elk stew. On the theory that a little comfort food would go a long way toward soothing our souls, and with one last roast from the elk our friend Kate gave us last year sitting in the freezer, Weston and I went to work. We cut, floured and browned the elk, then tossed it into a big pot with a little water to slow cook to savory, tender awesomeness. After a couple hours, we added carrots, potatoes, onions, green beans, mushrooms–all chopped into generous bite-sized pieces by Weston–to the pot and let it simmer for another half hour. Simple, comforting, and mouth-wateringly good. (That’s the sous chef below, showing off his work.)
Kate’s in Montana now, chasing elk around once again. Here’s to her tipping over another one just as delicious as this one. We’re already looking forward to helping her eat it.
Halo, the ultimate existentialist and eternal optimist, reminds us on this tough day, that the sun still came up this morning (sort of, here in the rainy Pacific Northwest), everything’s going to be alright (as long as we have stuffed animals to carry around), and most importantly, that all we need is love. And more stuffed animals. And bacon.
In dog we trust.
After two book tours and countless other talks and readings, I can say without reservation that Wednesday night was one of those times when it all comes together. Great crew of readers on top of their game, engaged audience, beautiful venue, fun people to hang with, and high spirits. And beer. It was an honor, and my good luck, to be a part of it.
From left, that’s Jason Rolfe (WOTF instigator and MC), Kate Taylor, Cameron Scott, me, Cameron Chambers, Copi Vojta (WOTF photo exhibit curator), and Steve Duda. Kate did a beautiful reading of her story, “The Road Goes On Forever”, Scott gave me goosebumps with “Scout Captions” and other poems from The Book of Cold Mountain, Chambers made us all laugh with a new story about getting lost and excerpts from his book Chasing Rumor, and Duda had us laughing and crying with his heartfelt story about cliff swallows and an ode to all the flies dangling from the dashboard of his truck.
I drove home exhausted, voiceless (literally) and, for the first time in quite a while, inspired to get back to work on my novel. A huge and heartfelt thank you to Rolfe for inviting me to read, to everyone who was there to make it a fantastic night, and to tour sponsors Patagonia and The Flyfish Journal. Note: The WOTF Cascadia Tour continues–without me–tonight in Bellingham and tomorrow in Vancouver, BC. Wish I could be there.