There is an invisible monster abroad in this forest. Ancient and enormous, its touch means death to those forest giants we can see and yet you would never know it is there.
This week I took a drive a little east of Prairie City to the site of the world famous Houmongous Fungus. This is a fungal genet covering two thousand acres. A genet is defined as \"a group of genetically identical individuals, such as plants, fungi, or bacteria, that have grown in a given location, all originating vegetatively, not sexually, from a single ancestor.\" This is one of several Honey mushroom genets located on the slopes of Dixie Mountain in the Malheur National Forest. The official Forest Service description is here.
Imagine something so big that all the pictures in this edition of the gazette are not enough to capture even half of it. This one genet covers a little more than 3 square miles and is more than two miles across. The far ridge in these pictures is about a mile away so the genet goes from where I took these pictures up over that ridge and about a mile beyond on the other side. And yet one can walk through these woods for days and never know it is there.
While I'm on the subject of walking through these woods, while it is certainly possible since these are public forests, I advise caution. The fungus kills mature trees and these dead snags can be dangerous on windy days. The terrain is very steep also. If you stay on the road you will be fine.
If you do go, the most notable thing you will experience is the silence. One is only about 5 miles as the crow flies from highway 26 but the absence of the sounds of civilization is absolute. That and the powerful scent of the pines and firs dominates the senses.
This is the opposite of a typical theme park which is flashy, relentlessly entertaining and utterly fake. Here, it is all bigger than human scale, invisible to human senses, indifferent to human desires and absolutely real.
This forest may be lacking in the entertainment of an amusement park but it offers something much more enduring. Civilization with all its conveniences makes is easy to lose sight of our limitations. There is a lot that we miss because our attention spans are short and our senses are jaded. This is not the forest of trick questions and clever scams. If you cannot see the monster among the trees it is not because the monster hides but because your vision has many limitations."
For those who choose to look closely, these woods are full of many interesting questions. Is a genet really an organism? Is there any communication along the network of rhizomorphs in the soil? The fungi and the trees have been battling for at least 2000 years, what can they teach us about arboreal epidemiology? And then there are the mysteries of mycology. Fungi are an order of existence with whom we have shared this planet since the beginning but about which we know little.
The Humongous Fungus is never going to be a major tourist destination. It is too big a bite and too subtle a flavor to have mass appeal. And it almost certainly is not the biggest nor the oldest of its kind. It is only the biggest that we know of today. But for a select few it may be worth the pilgrimage in order to fully engage with the real question:
\"How many other things are there is this world, this utterly real world, even bigger, older and stranger, than this which I can walk past, day after day, year after year, and never even suspect their existence?\"