Almost as soon as we pulled into the town of Mt. Shasta, Mr. Carolina saw his friend Milton. He pointed out the guy (an thin, older man), but we were on a mission to drink from the headwaters of the Sacramento River. After we’d filled our bottles and drunk our fill, we headed out to look for Milton. He wasn’t difficult to find, as he hadn’t walked very far from where we’d seen him. Mr. Carolina pulled the van into a nearby parking lot and he and Milton had a huggy reunion.
Milton needed a ride up the road to Weed. Yes, that’s the real name of a town.
Weed is about 10 miles (16 km) west-northwest of Mount Shasta, a prominent northern California landmark…
The town of Weed gets its name from the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, who discovered that the area’s strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. In 1897, Abner Weed bought the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill and 280 acres (1.1 km2) of land in what is now the City of Weed, for the sum of $400.
Milton said his errand wouldn’t take long and asked if we could give him a ride. He said he’d have some cash after his errand and could give us gas money and treat us to lunch. Mr. Carolina and I readily agreed. I was really hungry, but all our money had gone to buy gas to get us to Mt. Shasta. I’d told myself all day that when I arrived in Mt. Shasta, someone would feed me. It looked as if my prophesy would come true.
After the errand was run and the hamburgers were eaten, Milton invited us to stay at the free camping spot on public land where he pitched his tent. We drove out there and met the motley crew making up his community. There were several young men living there, a middle-age woman with a history of mental health issues whom they’d taken under their collective wing, and several dogs. These folks planned to spend the whole winter in that spot, living in their tents.
We hadn’t been in the woods long when the group suggested we drive to a free community dinner at a church near town.
The meal was pretty good: pasta with red sauce, salad, and garlic bread.
At the dinner, I recognized a couple I’d met a few years before at a music festival and again later on Further lot. The world felt really small to me after randomly meeting up in Northern California with acquaintances I’d made on the other side of the country.
After the meal, we went back to Milton’s community for the night. I slept in my bed in my van and passed one of the coldest nights I can remember. I had my sleeping bag spread over me like a blanket, but it didn’t do enough to contain my body heat. I couldn’t wait for the sun to rise. I worried about the folks who planned to sleep out there in their tents in the winter snow.
My recollections of the second day with Milton’s crew are vague, although I do remember a few things. I remember we went back to the church where we’d had dinner for a clothing giveaway where I got a pair of white and blue billowy pants. I barely remember the guys shooting a pellet gun; I took a turn and to my delight, I hit the target. I remember shocking Milton with one of my stories (maybe the one about the man offering me $40 for a blowjob once when I was flying a sign), and him saying, I didn’t see that coming, sister. I remember one of the guys (a Southern boy from North Carolina, I think), always referring to me as Miss Blaize.
Late in the afternoon, the community members invited us to stay for dinner. Mr. Carolina seemed hesitant to stay another night, but I didn’t want to get on the road so late in the day. We agreed to stay for dinner, spend the night, and leave early-ish in the morning.
On the menu that night was chicken of the woods, collected locally by someone in the group. I’d only heard of chicken of the woods a few days before, and had never tasted it.
Laetiporus is a genus of edible mushrooms found throughout much of the world. Some species, especially Laetiporus sulphureus, are commonly known as sulphur shelf, chicken of the woods, the chicken mushroom, or the chicken fungus because many think they taste like chicken. The name “chicken of the woods” is not to be confused with the edible polypore, Maitake (Grifola frondosa) known as “hen of the woods”, or with Lyophyllum decastes, known as the “fried chicken mushroom”.
The mushroom can be prepared in most ways that one can prepare chicken meat…
In some cases eating the mushroom “causes mild reactions . . . for example, swollen lips” or in rare cases “nausea, vomiting, dizziness and disorientation” to those who are sensitive. This is believed to be due to a number of factors that range from very bad allergies to the mushroom’s protein, to toxins absorbed by the mushroom from the wood it grows on..to simply eating specimens that have decayed past their prime.
There wasn’t much food in the van, but we were able to contribute cooking oil for frying the mushrooms, and I think we offered up rice as well. I was glad we had some food to share with the group, food that was actually going to help make the meal delicious. (The Southern boy who was doing the cooking maintained it was the process of frying in oil that brought out the chickeniness of the mushroom.)
The meal turned out to be tasty. The mushrooms did have a meaty texture and a chickeny taste, and I enjoyed myself until the guys did the dishes by letting the dogs lick the cooking pots and then washing the pots with cold water. (At least they did use dish soap.) I tried not to think about the dog germs that were probably on the pots before dinner was cooked. I tried to convince myself the hot oil had killed all the dog germs in that pot, but what about the pot the rice had been cooked in? There was no hot oil to kill germs there. Gross!
After dinner, I retired early to the van. I got inside my sleeping bag, so I stayed plenty warm. However, it wasn’t long before I had another problem: a rumbling tummy. Scary thoughts ran through my mind. Had the person gathering mushrooms gathered something poisonous instead of chicken of the woods? Had I gotten food poisoning from the unsanitary kitchen? Was I going to die?
I needed to use the toilet, but the free camping area was free of amenities; there wasn’t even a pit toilet. I was going to have to dig a cat hole before I took care of my business, and I wasn’t sure I could deal with that in the dark. I cowered in my sleeping bag all night, my stomach rumbling, feeling a bit nauseous, hoping I wasn’t dying, trying not to shit my pants.
I was relieved to make it to first light, when I was able to exit the van, dig a hole behind a bush, and let what was ailing me out of my system. Oh relief!