What started out as a curiosity grew into a lifestyle for Robyn Reynolds, the annual hunt for the elusive Prince mushroom. Because it preferred a bit of rain and some warmth, fall was the optimal time for harvesting; its texture and almond like flavor made it a popular pursuit for mushroom foragers. Robyn’s first encounter with the Prince was during a day hike off the Mountain Loop Highway and up into the Cutthroat Lakes Travers to see the vibrant September colors of the wild blue berry fields and larch trees.
Two of those mushrooms stuck out against the back drop of a very large downed cedar tree, and then in the shade of a young cedar that was growing out of the side of it. Both of the Princes’ caps were nearly a foot wide. A brown and red color contrasted with the white fleshy base and pinkish gills that hung under them. Robyn dropped to her knees and delicately touched each one with a greeting.
“You are both so beautiful,” she said. “I have to get my book and see what you’re called!”
She always brought two books with her when she ventured into the woods; Animal Tracks of the Pacific Northwest and Edible Forage of the Pacific Northwest. Other than finding a dog print in the mud next to Lake Josephine she had never referred to the books while on a trek. She ran a finger slowly down the list; the familiarity of the names reminded her of how many edible mushrooms there were, with names like Gray Shaggy, Fairy Ring, Candy Cap, Cascade Chantal and her favorite, Angel Wings, which reminded her of the pale soft flesh of a new born.
“There you are!” she said, looking at a picture of a Prince on its side. “What makes you so special, after all?”
She twisted a piece off and immediately discovered the smell of almonds and then the faint taste of the earthy soil behind an almond flavor.
“I think you are my new favorite, my Prince!” she said, and then pulled the closest one out of the ground.
She removed a canvas bag from her backpack that she used to keep her spare socks and lunch dry. After emptying it she carefully placed the Prince in the bag and then moved back towards the second one. This one didn’t release from the soil as easily as the first. She grabbed the stem at the base and wiggled it and then tried again. She gripped the stock with both hands, pulled hard and then fell onto her back with the stubborn Prince in her hands above her; dirt and pine needles dropped onto her face.
“Oh!” she said, wiping the debris from her face with a hand before sitting up.
As she was studying her find something dropped into her lap and then scattered towards the hole that had been created by the second mushrooms root system. Robyn dropped the mushroom and rolled into a standing position looking for the rodent.
“I hate mice!” she said, looking around by her feet and then at the mushroom she had dropped.
When it appeared all was safe she placed the second one into the bag and then the bag into her pack. She decided to have a sit on the log and enjoy her lunch. While she was removing a cheese and avocado sandwich from a cotton towel something caught her eye in the area of the hole.
“I hope that mouse isn’t snooping around here still.” she said, having a gander around the area.
She poured some tea into a cup and was thinking about how she was going to preserve and share the two magnificent finds, when out of the corner of her eye she saw something green and yellow move inside the hole in the ground. She placed the cup on the log next to the sandwich and slid off for a closer look. On her hands and knees she peered into the hole and was amazed at the size. The sun flashed random light through the tree canopy and into the hole. Robyn couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw what looked like a tiny table and chair. For a moment she considered the idea that the flesh of the mushroom she had eaten was making her ill and she was hallucinating. She stuck a hand into the hole up to her arm pit and poked a finger at the back of the chair. When she pinched it between two fingers to bring it out something ran up her arm and shoulder and into her hair.
She screamed with a noise never heard in those parts of the woods before and then fell back towards the cedar tree, striking her head on the sandwich.
“Why can’t you nosey-nose’s leave us alone already?” she heard in her left ear, feeling the weight of something on her lobe.
She stood up and began swatting at her head and shaking her hair to get the rodent off of her and then filled the air with her scream again as she ran away from the hole and her bag. She slowed down when she realized she must be having a seizure or something because how in the world would a rodent be talking with her?
“Silly me!” she said, her hands on her hips as she turned to see how far she had gone.
She walked carefully back to the log and found her sandwich on the ground but the cup of tea still in tacked. She removed a corner of her sandwich that was the dirtiest and tossed it behind her and then pushed the rest of it into her mouth. When she reached towards the cup of tea she saw an amazing thing; a little-man, no more than 4 inches high, wearing green pants and a yellow long sleeve pull over shirt, and sandals made from the bark of a cedar tree. He was leaning against the cup with his arms folded in front of his chest. His mouth was moving like he was talking but she couldn’t hear anything. His face was red and his head bobbed back and forth as he talked; he was clearly in an agitated state. What struck her most was even though she had never seen or heard of this little man she wasn’t frightened.
“I don’t know what you are saying, sir.” she said in a slow, kind voice. “I can’t hear you!”
Before she was able to register his movement he was standing on her shoulder and pulling on her left ear lobe. She turned her head slightly towards him and he slipped off, now dangling like an ornamental earring from her lobe. She reached up with her right hand and let him move from her lobe to her hand, he then leaped back onto her shoulder. This time she dared not move; waiting patiently to see what he was trying to do.
“I said, why can’t you nosey-noses’ leave us alone!” he said. “There is always one of you coming here and poking around, disrupting the order of things!”
Robyn heard him this time, although because of his size it merely sounded like a whisper to her. She placed her open palm on her shoulder and then moved so he was able to jump onto the log. She sat down with her back against the log and then looked at him. His hair was as white as the flesh of the Angel Mushroom, pulled tight into a pony tail with a stand too small to identify. His beard was the same color as his hair and it stretched to the center of his chest. His nose, ears and hands were larger than expected for someone his size, but not grotesquely large.
“This way I can see you when I talk and then I will move my ear towards you so I can hear you.” she said. “Let’s start with names; mine is Robyn.”
“Paracelsus is my name.” he said, with an air of pride.
“That sounds like an old name,” she said. “What does it mean?”
“Why does it have to mean something?” he said. “What does Robyn mean?”
“My name only has meaning to my mother and father; they are the ones who gave it to me.” she said.
“I see, then my name must have a meaning also but I don’t know it.” he said.
“What is your last name?” she said.
“All of us earth-dwellers have the same last name.” he said. “It is Genomos.”
“Earth-dweller is that what you are?” she said. “Why do you all have the same last name?”
“You are a curious woman,” he said. “We are all of the same family; we all came from the same source, so we carry His name.”
“Who is He?” she said, realizing his odor was the same as the Prince.
“That is a story I will not tell you, Ms. Robyn,” he said, sitting down now. “If you don’t have an understanding of the in-between then there is no way you can understand the Now.”
“You are intentionally trying to confuse me.” she said, pouring the last of her tea into the cup.
“Men don’t confuse women, they do that plenty themselves.” he said, his arms back in front of his chest.
“Oh, really?” she said. “And where are your women?”
“Again, you are being rather curious,” he said. “Ask yourself why you have never seen one of us before—Wait, I can tell you. The Genomos communities are very reluctant to interact with your kind.”
“Why is that?”
“From what I have heard you are a destructive being,” he said. “Everything is consumed or exploited for the benefit of a few. Genomos only take what we need and we don’t harm one another.”
“How many are there?” she said.
“How many what?” he said.
“How big is your family?”
“Nobody really knows,” he said, one leg stretched out, an arm resting on a knee. “I have only met a few others over the years. We appreciate the serenity of solitude; which is why your presence is so disturbing.”
This last comment was an irritant for Robyn Reynolds; it rubbed her core wrong. She felt it in her belly and then moved up the back of her neck, ending with a pulse behind her eyes. Without thinking anything particular she slammed the palm of her hand down onto her new acquaintance. The rage surged for only a moment, and then when the blackness subsided and she saw what she had done she felt no remorse or attachment what so ever.
She stood and then picked up the crumpled little man and studied his face. Other than the fact that one eye was now bulging from its socket he looked as if he were simply taking a nap. The almond smell seemed stronger, which made her think of when her husband ate too many garlic cloves it seeped from his pores for many days. She surmised then that the little man smelled like almonds because the Prince was his primary source of food. This would explain why he was caught up in the root system when she pulled the mushroom out of the ground. And then the strangest idea crossed her mind. She pulled off his clothing and studied his naked body. There were no genitalia, but the rest of him was symmetrically human. His thighs were muscled and she thought very similar looking to a skinned squirrel; one of her favorite open fire cooks. She could suck the meat off a squirrel leg in a second.
She gave him another sniff and then looked at her pack. She set his body down on the log and then removed one of the mushrooms. She retrieved her cup and then broke off several pieces from the base of the mushroom and placed them in the cup. She built a small fire and then warmed the mushroom until it became soft like a rose peddle. She walked back to the log and broke a branch from the tree and then picked up the little-man. One side of the stick was pushed into his mouth an inch and the other side poked into the ground next to the fire. She was concerned about the smell of burnt skin but it really wasn’t any different than cooking a squirrel over an open flame. When the smoke began to smell of almond she removed her meal and sucked on the little thighs. The white meat slid off the bone with no resistance. She consumed the warm mushrooms and then put all her belongings back into the bag while considering her new discovery. She tossed the remains into the flames and let the fire do what it did best.
From then on her late season hunt for the great Prince Mushroom included the anticipation of an open fire cook with a little-man. Some years she wasn’t so lucky, other years she found two or three. She continued to have a clear conscience because her activity was just the natural order of things.