America ReFramed

The Last Season

Season 04  Episode 17

In the forests of Oregon's Cascade Mountains, bustling camps of migrant workers hunt the elusive matsutake mushroom. Here, Kouy Loch, a 46-year-old former platoon leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Freedom Fighters crosses paths with Roger Higgins, a 75-year-old veteran sniper with the U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam. The unlikely pair find more than just mushrooms in the woods; they create a familial bond and a means to slowly heal the wounds of war. Told over the course of one matsutake mushroom season, THE LAST SEASON illuminates the delicate balance of nature to render a moving portrait of love and the cycle of life.

When Kouy was a child, the Khmer Rouge killed his father and as a young man became a platoon leader for the freedom fighters. Under the Khmer Rouge and its slave labor, Kouy learned to forage for anything he could find, including mushrooms, insects and worms, which taught him how to earn a living as a mushroom hunter. In the mountains, Roger lives in a humble home with his wife Theresa. A chain smoker, Roger’s labored breathing is alleviated by a portable oxygen source. He also suffers from PTSD and vivid nightmares. Sometimes, Theresa wakes up hearing him speak in foreign languages that she does not recognize.

Having seen each other for years, it was not until a sixth mushroom season that Roger and Kouy talked about their respective war experiences, flashbacks and nightmares. Beyond friendship, a father-son bond blossomed when Kouy kneeled before Theresa and Roger asking permission to take them as his parents and requesting they accept him as their son.

The fleeting matsutake mushroom season generally lasts two months. With the first signs of an early winter before them, the workers break down their encampment and Kouy makes preparations to leave Oregon. As the family exchange bittersweet hugs and goodbyes, Theresa and Kouy brace themselves fearing the proximity of Roger’s last season.