The Monster Mush
Bear and I went to school at Appalachian State University. Boone is like a second home to us. The mountains are in our blood.
When The Cub ™ was in 7th grade, she was accepted to and attended Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP). That’s a long way of saying “summer camp for smart kids.” We were tickled beyond belief when she chose to attend TIP on the ASU campus. When check-in day came around, we found out she would be staying in the same dorm I spent my freshman year! She attended TIP for the next 4 years, always at ASU. The Cub came to love the mountains as much as we did.
For the four years she attended TIP at App, Bear and I would take a week’s vacation to drop the Cub off at TIP on campus in Boone, then head out to Price Park in the camper. One of our most favoritest things to do in the world is hike in the woods. Everywhere. Any where. The 5.1 mile Boone Fork Trail is a special fave. We never worried about getting lost; the trail is a loop. Just get back on the well-worn path and you’ll eventually get back to the campsite. Lucky thing that, because I like to get off the trail. Bear nags me about that because it impacts the environment and the condition of the trail, but when I see something that catches my eye, I’ve gotta hop on over!
The summer of 2008, Bear and I were hiking the trails around Moses Cone Manor. Moses Cone amassed quite a spread way back at the end of the 19th Century. 3500 acres. He donated the entire place, Flat Top Manor and the surrounding countryside, to the state upon his death. That estate has become part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as Moses Cone Memorial Park. The Manor now houses a craft shop and demonstration center. We have to go there every time we are in Boone.
As we were heading down past the old apple orchard, I started rambling about mushrooms. I had just begun my discovery of mycology, an outgrowth of my interest in fungi when I had an environmental laboratory. My interest had grown from looking at mold spores through a microscope, to foraging for wild mushrooms. Bear, the quiet half of this duo, would shut up as I blabbered on. This mushroom is such-and-such. Ooo! Look! A chanterelle! Poor kid. His ears probably grew numb from all the chewing I was giving them.
We hiked along for a while, me pointing out mushrooms and wild plants, and Bear feigning interest. Then he said, “What’s that?” “What’s what?”
“That!” he says, pointing to:
I completely missed this monster! It could have taken my head off!
I had no freaking idea what this thing was. Well, I knew it was a mushroom, a polypore to be exact. But, damn! That was the biggest ‘shroom I had ever seen in my life. It was growing at the base of a spruce tree, ready to grab unwary passers-by. And Bear was the one to find it! Damn, I was kicking myself. Here I was, the supposed “mushroom expert” in the family, and I completely did not see this thing.
Over the years, Bear has woven whole yarns about this guy. He could start a textile mill with all the yarns he’s spun. Anyway, we named it the Monster Mushroom, because neither of us knew what it was. Hell, we couldn’t even find it in the Audubon Guide. We later learned the Monster is actually called a Berkeley Polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi). They can get huge. Up to 80cm (for those of you who aren’t into metric, that’s almost a yard across!) And when they are young, they are eatable (edible). Good thing that, because the Monster was so big, we were afraid it would eat us.
The next time you are walking through the woods, be very, very careful. There are real monsters in the woods!