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
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 Ive 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 cant 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 woodsa 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 Ive 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, Ill not only
find those treasured morels, I'll still get some chores done before
In the meantime, while Im off in the woods, whereabouts
untold, I leave you with this ode to the mushroom from my Merely
a Yooper collection.
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
carried home in mesh
bags, harvesting and sowing
all at once.
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