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Matsutake Quandry

By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post

Matsutake emerging from the ground like freshly baked mochi Oct 25 Photo DY

While we have known about climate change’s arrival for a long time — for example, “Scientific American’s” “The Carbon Dioxide Question” (Jan. 1978) was on the reading list of one of my college classes — the speed with which it has been happening has surprised even climate professionals.

Moreover, western Washington summer forest fires since July, and this year’s late local matsutake season, bring home a point that my brother, Gary, and I have been thinking about lately.

It is that climate change is starting to hit the Seattle JA community where it hurts. Through lengthening summer’s warmth and drought, climate change is delaying the onset of matsutake growth, to the point where young mushrooms are emerging only to freeze within days.

On October 14 and 21, I was foraging without a jacket. On the first of those days, in trying to explain our lack of luck to new participants, I described how the season felt late: “I remember always being cold and wet as a boy.”

On the afternoon of October 21, I was mushrooming wearing only a T-shirt on top. It became an issue when I inadvertently walked over a still-active bee’s nest.

On Wednesday, October 25, I began the day by asking Gary if we should “pick clean.” In the past, we had left the little ones. We decided that we had to pull all we found, because subfreezing temperatures were forecast for the weekend. The poor tsubomi — young unopened mushroom buds which my aunts term “bouzu” — would freeze as soon as they poked above the moss that otherwise insulates them from cold night temperatures.

Indeed, the season’s first snow had fallen at Snoqualmie Pass the night before.

The origin of this usage of “bouzu” only occurs to me now, years after first hearing it. It comes from the shaved heads of Buddhist monks.