On the trail of an underground America


If you go down to the woods today…the meth heads will have the catalytic converter off your SUV before you’ve plucked your first porcini.

The remote forest areas of Washington State, Oregon, California and Idaho are as scary as any you’ll find in story-book fables, but for those prepared to bear the risk there’s money in them thar hills.

For pickers it’s barely a living – just enough to keep the wolf from the door. Theirs is a world of relentlessly tough work, uncertain reward and a nomadic lifestyle that makes for a miserable existence.

Like rotten jobs the world over, it’s populated by people with low skills or no skills, of addicts and immigrants and those who make their living on the fringes of society.

But for a few with a passion for funghi and the business instincts of an NYSE trader the rewards are there.

Langdon Cook brings an anthropologist’s eye to his investigation of this tribal group and just like the mycelium pathways that produce the coveted fruiting bodies, there’s a lot to this murky business that happens underground.

Cook’s journey into this shadowy sub-culture makes for a riveting adventure. He has the social skills to pass muster in rough company, the culinary talent to schmooze with restaurateurs who snap up the treasures of the forest and the storyteller’s gift of taking you along with him.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell a morel from a chanterelle, or porcini from trompettes de mort; this is a glimpse into a veiled world that provides plenty of food for thought about how we live and how we behave.


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