Have you ever thought of the seasons themselves as a metaphor for life? Youth is the season of hope, yet there is a season for all things. Spring is for our birth and development. Summer is the time to bloom and grow. Fall is the season of reflection and preparation. Winter is the long season for which the rest of life has been a preparation.
An unidentified bird in the timber makes his presence known. Cool morning open window sounds waft from the near and the far. A lone coyote wails in the distance. The bluebirds rise early and begin their songs. A determined woodpecker pounds at a tree, determined to loose the bugs he must eat. The season is nigh.
There is a certain ritual I look forward to every spring. I work towards a certain goal, and when all the pieces fall into place, I am rewarded with all the fixings of what I think is one of the finest meals.
The first part of the three part preparation is being abundantly supplied by nature. In front of my office here at Gilly Hollow is a very nice asparagus patch. Every spring for several weeks that patch supplies a daily growth of very fine produce. In fact, by mid June we will have eaten so much asparagus we will be tired of it and quit picking. This portion of the ritual takes little action on my part. One day spears will just begin showing.
The second part of my ritualistic spring meal is morel mushrooms.
The third part of that meal is fresh caught fish. I prefer crappie for that portion of the feast. Part of the ritual is the fishing expedition and catch must be a reward. I need to feel like I deserve the fishing expedition and that I have balanced my Karma to the point I will be rewarded with an adequate haul.
A spring walk in the woods is summoning me. I long for the sight of the May apple, and the smell of apple blossoms. With heightened senses, and sunlight filtering through the budding trees playing a dappled game amongst last fall's leaves, I'll scan. I'll scout and try to decipher color and texture, while trying not to being fooled by walnut shells or corn cobs carried to the timber by foraging deer.
How can a lowly fungi cause people to descend into spring madness?
With a splendid weekend behind us and what should be ample ground moisture, conditions will soon be ripe for the little fungi to pop.
Once bitten by the bug, morel hunters begin an annual spring ritual. Prime habitat and its location are guarded like a family secret. Tales of the "honey tree" and the bounty of years past grow exponentially, not unlike similar tales told of ones biggest fish catch. Morel hunters are every bit the grandiose liars as other sportspersons -- hunters or fishers.
But alas, the past two years have been less than stellar for mushroom hunting, at least in my timber. Many others have told me the same thing. I have three years of "want" bottled up and ready to explode.
In the past few years I have become re-familiarized with the quest for the morel. I have learned that one must enter into a certain frame of mind where you become one with nature. Color and texture is the best indicator of the presence of the morel. Once you find the first, it pays to stand back a couple paces and stare at the cap and note the color, orientation and especially the texture. One you become attuned to these cues, the others just seem to jump out at you.
I have also learned that when you find that first one, you need to stop and look around. Usually you will find a few or maybe even many more in the vicinity. Some of those you might have even stepped on before your senses snapped to attention.
Using a walking stick is a must while mushroom hunting. Using the stick, you can move fallen bark and plants out of the way to look under them. You also need to become one with that stick and imbibe magical qualities to it. You do have to enter into a frame of mind where your senses all are working together. You can, under certain circumstances smell the presence of the underground mycelium from which the fruits pop up.
Of course all efforts are for naught if you aren't in the right place. If you know where morels have been found in the past, there is a good place to start. Of course, like I stated earlier, most people guard their spots zealously, and any directions given by a seasoned hunter should be suspect.
The soil temperature has to be just right. So does ground moisture. Once the ground reaches a certain temperature and the ground is drained, yet moist, with no standing water, the morels will pop.
Bearing in mind that certain helpful hints from other hunters is suspect, I have tried out many of the theories other hunters have told me. Some have panned out, while most haven't.
The part of our timber which contains elms, both living and dead has been a good source of morels in the past, but not always.
I'm thinking that some "out of the box" analysis is in order. The grassy border on the west side of the timber is probably the warmest because of the afternoon sun this week. That is where I will begin my quest.
I'm going! But if you ask me how I did, I might set you on a false trail and maybe even embellish the story a bit. Of course if you're lucky, I might even invite you over to share in the feast, especially if you bring fresh caught crappie. I'll supply the asparagus.
I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.