Saturday, March 13, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell . . .

As the cold winter months fade into the past and Spring officially arrives I wait patiently for the most glorious rite of the season – the coming of the great morel. This ephemeral of nature will soon be here and the search for the ever-elusive morel will begin.

I wasn’t always a shroomer. I came by this vocation quite innocently – I married into a family of orthodox shroomers. True morel hunters – the envy of all those who have ever waited for anything of importance or value to transpire. Theirs is the wait of expectance – the anticipation of the hunt for that earthy delicacy known as the Beluga caviar of the mushroom family. They spend their year marked by the vigil that encompasses their patronage to the king of all fungus – the morel. Seriously, this is a family who has owned and maintained a cabin near Crystal Mountain for the sole purpose of shrooming.

During those fleeting couple of weeks each spring, they forage through the woodlands of the Thompsonville area in search of the camouflaged heads of morels popping through the leafy tundra, in some hopes of finding the “Holy Grail” of all morels – the one to go down in history as the “Big One”.

It was my father-in-law who instilled in me the law of the land when it comes to morels. His number one rule: "Don't ask where we are going and don’t tell anyone where we've been”. And so we would set out – and under his tutelage I began to discover the lore of shrooming.

Now mind you, I hail from a noble line of foragers – having spent my childhood in and out of cranberry bogs, scouting back roads for low bush blueberries, and harvesting dandelion tops for the production of the nectar of gods – dandelion wine. Great-grandma’s special Spring Tonic as she called it. I believed it was bottled sunshine, the rows of jars gleaming in the dim light of the cellar. But nothing in my experience had prepared me for the theories and techniques surrounding mushroom hunting.

My first lesson was in proper equipment – my father-in-law made it clear no one was allowed to head into the woods unprepared. And having the appropriate walking stick and sack were high on the list of priorities. The two “S’s” – the foundation of any good hunt.

A walking stick, in my book, was any stick that supported your weight and prevented you from falling down hills and used to lift underbrush to uncover any hidden delicacies. But I quickly learned that a master shroomer had a “lucky stick” that stood in a place of honor inside the cabin and could only be used by its rightful owner. “Lucky sticks” have tales associated with them – stories of successful hunts, quirky misshapen finds and days spent in quest of the “Big One”.

And who knew a lowly sack could take on such importance! I was once chastised heavily for heading out the door with a plastic grocery bag. You would have thought I had committed a double homicide. I can still hear my father-in-law’s words ringing in my ears, “Girl, I can see they sure don’t sell common sense at that university of yours.” The proper sack, I learned that year, is preferably made from cloth or mesh, as plastic does not allow the mushrooms to breathe. Onion bags are the “IT Bag” for well-schooled shroomers. With rice bags coming in a close second.

And then there is the morel mythology . . .

  • where there is one, there are many
  • look outward, not downward
  • always leave at least one mushroom in the woods (insures they'll be more next year)
  • where you find greys, yellows will follow
  • whites are the last of the season
  • check under or around the May Apples
  • dying or dead Elm trees, Sycamore and Ash trees are your best bets for big hauls
  • always pinch or cut, do not pull them out of the ground
  • the best place to hunt morels is on someone else's property
  • pray to the Mushroom Gods before each hunt
My father-in-law passed away several morel seasons ago. His last trip to the cabin was spent mapping out the family’s secret spots, helping my husband commit their locations to memory. They took up their lucky sticks and slung their onion sacks over their shoulders for one last hunt together – father and son sharing tales of season’s past as they searched one final time for the “Holy Grail” of mushrooms – the elusive morel.

I anticipate the arrival of spring each year. With spring comes hope and all things renewed. My spirits are lifted, much like the sap running in the trees. We have started introducing our grandchildren to the adventure of shrooming – sharing the stories of successes and failures, of battling nature's elements, the trials and tribulations, and the importance of the two “S’s”. We are also instilling in them the golden rule of the family – “Don’t ask where we are going and don’t tell anyone where we’ve been”.

Happy Shrooming!


rusticway said...

I love your writing Candis and, I love morel mushrooms! Great read, it's got me itching to get out in the woods when it's time, to start searching!

Candis Collick said...

Thanks rusticway! The season is just starting U.P. our way - but I've already found 8!