From forest to table, Matthon chronicles the wild mushroom trade in Willits, California one rainy spring in 2012. A seasoned picker of various edibles, Matthon infiltrates a rag tag society of affectionately termed, “circuit pickers”—ramblin’ folk who wind their way through the Pacific Northwest following the rain clouds and growth of well coveted ‘shrooms.
This addition to the slice of life genre has Matthon focusing on Alvin, a long in the tooth circuit picker making ends meet by buying ‘shrooms from other pickers, then turning around and selling the prized fungi to five star restaurants in the nearby Napa area. Due to his arthritis, Alvin has been reduced to buying ‘shrooms instead of picking them. For the season Matthon gets his feet wet harvesting and hauling pounds of wild mushrooms on his back with pointers from Alvin who sounds more like a weather man slash botanist when relaying the nuts and bolts of picking. Immersing himself in the life, Matthon rents a room alongside Alvin at the local hotel filled almost exclusively with pickers during mushroom season.
Affectionately, Under the Radarchronicles the left of center characters occupying the other rooms at the inn, their choices that led them to mushrooming,and their future plans—down on their luck couples who’ve come to the woods as a last ditch effort to make a little dough, a man suffering from PTSD who only finds peace of mind in the forest, and a handful of self-proclaimed non-conformists like Alvin saving up for a long, lazy summer of trout fishing. Alvin’s oral history draws a sketch from the good ol’ days in the late ‘80s to the over-picked plots of today—when matsutake patches were plentiful and privatization of forests didn’t mean gates and barbed wire, to the slow but steady encroachment of migrant farmers with no love for the life, wanting in on the deal. Next time I’ve got a plate of ‘shrooms in front of me, I’ll be thinking of these guys. Recommended. –Kristen K. (Pioneers Press, 816 N. Main St. #200, Lansing, KS 66043)