The matsutakes are emerging along the ridges. If you know where they are you are finding them. If you don't, you probably won't. A person with deeper local roots than I have has been schooling me on the subtle art of spotting the slightest puffs of fir down on tan oak leaves, pouncing on them for the dirty white gems.
My biggest motivation for going along on a mushroom gathering foray was that my woofer — “Diana Winter” and I have been cooped up in the barn with four puppies. Cabin fever is setting in with the long nights. Things have really changed around the barn and I don't know if I can ever relax again. Every time a puppy shits on the concrete floor Diana jumps from her seat at our primitive office desk to remove the crap and scrub the floor with bleach. I always thought it was easier to let it dry out a little first. The trouble is that she's already caught up with most of the cleaning chores. I'm starting to feel like I have to crumple the beer can immediately after killing it, deposit the scrap in the recycling, or she'll give me a dirty look, like before you know it she'll be suggesting I take my boots off before entering our living quarters.
“You have a high tolerance for slovenliness,” she told me. At the moment she was referring precisely to the impromptu computer desk I'd fashioned with plywood and redwood two-by-six that for some reason refuses to plant itself firmly on the sloping concrete floor. Something about the four points of contact causes it to rock when you type. Its crude plywood was finished with spilled coffee, tea, or beer mixing with cigarette ashes, which I never noticed, but now it's Diana's new work environment. In addition to tidying up the barn, I've asked her to take over as a sort of secretary and straighten up all the paperwork that's been accumulating for two seasons.
“Anyway, Spec, I was supposed to be an apprentice. You're supposed to be the one in charge.”
“Shit, Diana. At this point you're an accomplice.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“I was just kidding.”
“I never know when to believe you. Can we just drop this whole conversation?”
She keeps accusing me of making loaded statements, and last night she told me she knew what I was thinking when I was chuckling, that I was ridiculing her in my mind. Her Detroit accent kills me. I had her do the answering machine message for our farm just for kicks. People already think she's totally in charge, telling me what to do.
The thing is that Diana virtually has more experience as a farm manager than I do. I never would have believed this, but there is this interactive, alternative reality deal on the internet called “Farmville,” where people operate virtual farms. They fertilize the fields, plant the crops — I don't know what all they do, exactly, but it evidently eats up a world of time for some people. Lots of people are doing it. My first ex is now virtually farming in her free time, even after ridiculing me for years that I was wasting my time *actually* farming and not making real money. Supposedly the participants get excited about purchasing a new tractor. Are they signing their life away on virtual mortgages? I don't know. You're welcome to research this business on your own. I'm afraid to delve into it, for fear it would trap me and suddenly I'd be more inclined to harvest carrots in cyberspace than out in the mud.
Diana, for instance, was harvesting wheat with her combine on line when I mentioned that it would be nice if somebody brought an armload of firewood in. “You think Farmville is dumb,” she said.
“Well, I just—Anyway, guess I'll go get the firewood.” I'd only mentioned getting some firewood because I'd wanted a chance to check my e-mail in private, see what other potential woofers might have contacted me, just in case things don't work out with Diana. I fear that the novelty of our mild winter might wear off when the storms set in, if they ever do. And she's growing increasingly suspicious that I had some ulterior motive for inviting her out here to work. I guess I've made a few comments to her in the evenings that might have been taken the wrong way, but I only meant to be flattering. I mean I'd said her earthy brown hair was beautiful, which might have sounded like a come-on, but I'd said that because she'd mentioned going to Ukiah for a day and cutting her hair short, bleaching it, dyeing it red or blue or something, because it was so hard to manage her hair in the crude conditions. Why was I making comments like that in the first place, though? I wanted her to go to Ukiah and leave me alone for the day. “Think I'll just get the wood myself.”
Instead of getting a load of firewood I sort of wandered off into town for a cup of coffee where I ran into a friend who was planning to drive up Mountain View Road to hit a few primo matsu spots.