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Natural Sciences Outdoor Adventures

Morel Madness

Harvesting spring’s first bounty.

morels

The lilacs aren’t blooming yet, and oak leaves are still smaller than a squirrel’s ear, but Fisherman and I went mushroom hunting anyway on Tuesday. The morels didn’t care if the old signs weren’t in their favor, they sprouted from the side of a steep hill anyway.

It is odd how I regard detail and specificity so highly in writing but will cut almost all of it from this story. Anything that would give it a sense of place could give intrepid Google users — both its search and its satellite maps — a trace to the place where we found five pounds of mushrooms when we shouldn’t have.

But there is still a story, we just have to focus a little closer. A good morel spot is a closely guarded secret, yet you can photograph them from a few feet away and put that picture anywhere. So it is also with words.

Native habitat

The delicious wild mushrooms only emerge from the leaf litter on the forest floor for a few weeks every May. They are some of the first edible anything to grow every year — the return to a world that sustains you, not tries to kill you like a six-month winter with 50 days below zero degrees.

But they don’t give themselves up easy; the woods are big when you’re looking for a four-inch fungus. There are lots of likely spots where they don’t grow, but you will spend long minutes staring at those spots anyway, seeing nothing.

So you search, with no certainty, waiting for that dark cone to appear. And each time one does, it feels like finding hidden treasure.

An unusual guardian welcomed us to the morel thicket: an Eastern Towhee, an uncommon bird that neither of us had seen before. An eight-inch long sparrow with splashes of white and orange against a black back and head, it sang and hopped between branches before fluttering out of sight in the brush.

We resumed our slow patrol, heads bowed.

Forest floor flora

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