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Beacon Archive

May 2004
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Spores Spring Eternal: Confessions of a Novice Shroomer
by Frank Solle

My search began in earnest, if not a bit early. Once most of the snow departed and the mid-April days began to warm, the urge to splurge my time hunting the elusive morel mushroom simply became too great to ignore.

Sure, there were plenty of chores to be done, both inside and out here at our still-new-to-us house and property, but my wife Sue was gone to her annual conference in Florida, and the only one left to convince into going for a ride in the truck and a walk in the woods was Goober, our trusty canine. It was an easy sell.
Armed with a few hints Sue picked up over the winter, along with the firsthand news of one local fellow having found some fresh mushrooms a few days earlier, I was off.

To put things in perspective, there are a number of parallels between mushroom hunting in a “new” location and fishing in unknown waters. Faced with a new lake or river to fish, the piscator must determine possible feeding areas along with depths and currents, all while taking into consideration the time of day, water temperature, and even the play of shadows. Similarly, the mushroomer has to identify potential habitats by noting tree types, while considering the double effects of daytime and nighttime temperatures as well as moisture content of the soil. Also, in searching for the elusive morel, one must be able to identify the true, tasty black or yellow mushrooms from the false, let's just say icky, ones, remembering the number one rule of mushroom hunters everywhere: If in doubt, throw it out.

Another lesson I’ve learned along the way is that just as in fishing there is a big difference between casting and catching when it comes to actually locating the too-often well-hidden morel.
Which brings me to the novice part of this story. While Sue and I certainly enjoy fresh, wild mushrooms, we are not, by any means, fanatics. Yes, we did spend some time hunting for morels while living in the Upper Peninsula, but the few tips we received there were either directions toward the proverbial wild goose, or straightforward fish stories. Mostly, the good folks up there would simply laugh whenever the topic came up of where the mushrooms might be. They would then offer such specific directions as, “In the woods,” or “Just out of town.” So, we went, we looked, we mostly came home with empty bags.

As a youngster growing up in Leelanau County, I remember some successful family mushroom outings, but that was there, and then, while this is here, and now. Sue, on the other hand, recalls some successful trips here many years ago with her parents and those wonderful naturalists, Bea and Sheldon Parker. Unfortunately, she can’t quite recall where those might have been.

But the morels are out there, or soon will be. And even just the search for them is enjoyable. It provides me with a chance to once again explore and discover the wonder of this Island, while at the same time reorienting myself to some of my old haunts. Besides, there really isn't such a thing as a bad day spent in the woods–a point exclamated the other day as I stumbled upon a nesting pair of red-tailed hawks. Then there is the sage advice someone shared with us: “If you can't find mushrooms on Beaver Island, you're not going to find them anywhere.” Encouraging words, provided you do indeed find some.

So far this spring I’ve scouted a number of promising locations, and have a few more to check out as the weather warms and we await some life-giving rain. And, with any luck, I’ll not only find those treasured morels, I'll still get some chores done before Sue returns.

In the meantime, while I’m off in the woods, whereabouts untold, I leave you with this ode to the mushroom from my “Merely a Yooper” collection.

MORELS

Searching stands of aspen
hands and knees and nose
close to damp ground,
seeking brown against brown
wrinkled veins of earth fruit.

Spores spread by birds,
by animals, by wind,
by others, like me, who seek
the soft gamy flesh
once found
carried home in mesh
bags, harvesting and sowing
all at once.

–Frank Solle


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