The Mushroom Thief

, The Mushroom Thief
Walking past my neighbors cow pasture at 6:00 a.m. a couple days ago, I noticed someone moving around in the field, hunched over and acting strangely near a natural hill where the cows like to sleep.
, The Mushroom Thief
He was wearing long blue jeans, a long-sleeve plaid shirt, with a hood over his head. At first, I thought the hood was to keep off the mosquitoes. Actually, it probably was. Or… To hide his identity from anyone out in the dark at 6:00 a.m.? He was moving through the pine trees, crouched over, and he had something in his hand. He stood up slightly, and the item in his hand look like a limp, brown – oh my gosh – it looked like an animal carcass. I thought, oh. I have come across a poacher with his kill. This is not good!
, The Mushroom Thief
Armed with only a flashlight and two Schnauzers, MINIATURE Schnauzers, I desperately hoped I had not overseeing some extremely lucrative criminal activity that would put me on a hit list for having witnessed a crime. I just tried to walk on the nonchalantly, head and eyes forward, trying to look like I had not noticed what was going on under the pine trees., The Mushroom Thief
Having just returned from several days of hiking and mushroom viewing in Highlands, North Carolina, I was trying to emulate those low – temperature hikes. In Florida, that means walking at 6:00 a.m. in flip-flops and a tank top, carrying a flashlight., The Mushroom Thief
As I walked the next quarter mile, I thought about what I should do. Certainly by now, the criminals knew where I was and were coming to get me. I could walk another mile and a half to a convenience store, or I could walk a mile to get back home. I decided I was not in grave danger, and elected to walk past the scary guy and go on home., The Mushroom Thief
As I walked the return route to home, and found myself passing the cow pasture, there was the incognito guy. I realize that he did not have an animal carcass, but rather, a burlap sack! He was bending over and collecting something. It was too dark to be hunting four-leaf clovers, so the only thing it could be was either cow manure – or – aha! – mushrooms., The Mushroom Thief
And, at that crucial moment, when he saw me, and I saw him, and he was putting something into the bag, my trusty Key West Kino flip flops blew out a strap.
There was nothing to do but laugh, take off both shoes, and walk the 3/4 of a mile home barefoot. Past the poacher. The scary guy no longer seemed as frightening as the prospect of walking on the side of the road with snakes – or, worse yet, sandspurs, or in the middle of the road with broken bottles and sharp pebbles. And, in Florida, the pavement gets unbelievably hot right at 6:01 a.m., The Mushroom Thief
So, I did what we Floridians do. I said, “Good morning! How are you?” He said, “Hey, fine,” and he swatted a few mosquitoes. I thought I should go ahead and ask the obvious… “Are you collecting mushrooms?” I was thinking about Peyton Barrett’s trips to Georgia to collect mushrooms, and how lucrative he had reported the market to be. He said that the restaurants were buying all the chanterelles he could find.
, The Mushroom Thief
Of course, I have a pretty good idea that it’s not chanterelles that are popping up in my neighbor’s cow pasture. So I went ahead and asked, “What kind of mushrooms are you finding? Any edible ones?” He replied, “The ones with the small caps are really good to eat.” I answered, “With my luck, I would either end up with one of those deadly poisonous mushrooms, or the one that would make me hallucinate all day long.”
He laughed, and told me that he is a scientist, studying science.
Really.

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