Monday, March 01, 2010
With 50 degree highs predicted for this weekend, I know many people, myself included, will be just itching to get out in the woods. Why go out this early, you may ask? Well, for starters, it's time to get those legs back in shape so they can last all day stumbling through the brush up and down valleys and hills. Second, it is also a good time to scout spots and trees, since there is little foliage to block your view. Last, getting out now is also a good time to grab a tree identification book and hone up your skills.
For those of you, who might not be able to make it out in the woods quite yet, or have a whole lot more patience than the rest of us, you can partake in the age-old, pre-spring ritual of talking about morel hunts of the past. If you follow the message boards like I do, you see these stories being posted more frequently.
Now don't get me wrong, hunters are always willing to tell our stories so this happens all year. But there is nothing better to do before a season than to reminisce about season's past. Some hunters, and I am guilty of this as well, will look through all their photos to do what we call "train the eyesight" to that all too familiar pitted pattern.
One reason morel stories abound in late winter is that the fever is on everyone's mind. The slightest reference to anything mushroom or woods related will quickly turn to tales of morels. I have seen it happen in the line at the drug store, between complete strangers sitting three tables away from each other at a local diner, and while waiting in the doctors office. It doesn't matter where, in these parts morels are just on a lot of people's mind. And to many they are part of their heritage, so these stories represent local and family histories full of secret techniques and even more secretive places.
I do happen to have a degree in history and someday, if I am ever able to retire or win the lottery, I would like to travel the back roads of the Midwest and talk to all the old-timers I could find and write a book to share these rich histories and traditions about hunting wild mushrooms. I think we could learn a lot from these stories - not just about finding mushrooms, but about respect for the woods and the symbiotic ties between mushrooms, nature, and society.
But enough of that, let's talk morel tales. I will start us off, but I would like to hear from you as well. Please leave a comment about your greatest find or that one perfect day of hunting. I never get tired of hearing about hunting glory days, so feel free to post as many stories as you wish.
For myself, it seems that my most memorable finds happen when I am not even looking for morels. Let me give you an example. The last time I hit the motherlode in Rock Bridge State Park was back in the early 90's. It was late in the season, actually the first week of May and I had long given up on morels because I was in college and focused more on other things, but luckily they had not given up on me that year. It was a hot day and we were hiking the main trails when we came to a creek. This was back before they had installed a few bridges which now span the creek, so if you wanted to cross you had to wade. The only problem was that it had been a fairly wet spring and the creek at that spot was almost waste deep, so we hiked upstream to see if we could find a place to cross.
We eventually did and continued up stream on the other side looking for arrowheads along the edge of the creek. We didn't find any arrowheads, which is a good thing because it is illegal to take those types of artifacts from a state park. However, I was forced out of the creek bed by a deep pool of water and as I popped out and over the bank, I was taken completely aback. Staring me in the face were about 30 4-5 inch yellow just sitting there in a ten foot area.
I was with my brother who is not a mushroom hunter, but even he was amazed by the glorious site, so I took off my shirt (not having a bag) and we loaded it up. We picked probably 3 pounds between us in about 5 minutes, and holding our shirts closed as best we could, we forded back across the stream and headed to the car.
I came back the next morning with some other friends and we picked our fill. We did this for 3 days straight. Picking some huge late season morels with some weighing in well over 1/2 pound by themselves. To this day I have never seen anything like it. I wish I had been paying a lot more attention to mushrooms then because that must have been a glorious season. In fact, it was that fortunate find that rekindled my love for mushroom hunting that I had picked up around K.C. as a kid and I have been hunting in Mid-MO ever since.