Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Heads, Breads and Hides
I do some contract labor for the US Forest Service, so several times a week I find myself inside the office building. The employees spend quite a bit of time out in the surrounding woods and rivers and because they cover so much area in their travels, they frequently come across things of interest, which they bring back to the office. Amongst the items which are commonly found are a fungus which grows on the trees, which most folks here call bear breads. I've also heard them called bear crackers.I don't know how they came to be called by that name, to the best of my knowledge, bears don't eat them. I spoke to my friend Chris Budke, long time forestry technician about them, and he informed me that they only grow on trees that are in some way damaged, due to a defect or rot or illness. Spores come off the bottom of the fungus and drift in the wind or are picked up by birds or other forest animals and are deposited on trees that are suitable for the bear breads to grow. He explained that some only grow on Spruce trees and others only grow on Hemlock. They are a parasite and need a host tree to thrive, gradually sucking the life out of the host. In that respect they remind me of the government, but that's an avenue I don't want to pursue at this time. Chris said that another fungus that grows much like the bear bread is a mushroom named the Chicken of the Woods. They grow horizontally up the tree, kind of like in layers, one upon another and are bright orange on top with a brilliant yellow underside. I don't know if any animals eat them or not, but people do. I ate them once when I was living on the farm. The texture and flavor reminded me of meat and I remember liking them at the time. Of course I liked most any kind of food back then, with the exception of rutabagas and cooked turnips- I'm not sure how I would feel about them now. The larger bear breads are sometimes painted. One local artist, Jim Carey, used to make delightful Alaskan scenes on them, sometimes using octopus ink that the fishermen would bring to him.
The skulls on display are some that Chris found out in the woods. One of them was partially buried and had been there for quite a long time- roots were growing from one of the cavities. Though you can't tell from the picture, one of the skulls was huge.The teeth were ground down from years of use, so he probably died of old age. Brown bears don't have any natural predators that I know of, aside from humans, although as I've mentioned previously, the males will kill the cubs to make the sows go into heat. One of the local bear guides, Fagan Skafelstad, mentioned being anchored in Neka Bay one evening and hearing a terrible ruckus up in the woods that went on for hours.Apparently two large boars were fighting.When Fagan went up to check it out in the morning, he found a large area all torn up and one of the bears dead and partially buried. I guess the winner was going to come back later for a snack. The loser was quite large, so it was frightening to think about how big the conqueror was. The skull with the face attached is Chris. He kind of tried to hide, but one of the disadvantages of being tall is that hiding places are few and far between. Out in the foyer of the office is the hide of a hungry brown bear.I understand it made off with one of the dogs that belonged to a fellow named Ken. He has some property on the outskirts of town that borders a muskeg and a pretty good stretch of woods. I guess the bear came back for the other dog and Ken put an end to his plans. I'm not sure how large this one is. My son Brian shot one that measured eight and a half feet a few years ago that hangs off of both ends of the bed where it's stored.This one doesn't look that large, but I could be mistaken- everything is relative. While I was visiting Chris he showed me some of the other items he and other employees have found in the forest. One of these times I'll do a post on them. Meanwhile, I've got work to do on the boat and I told Chris I'd bake some blueberry muffins for dessert tonight, so I'll bid you all a fond farewell for now.