Weikert: The morel of the story is found in the forest
There is a reason I'm writing about morels now, nearing the end of their Vermont foraging season.
Areas of wild mushrooms are simultaneously big deals, and places most like to keep mum about. My spot introduced itself to me four years ago, and while I don't openly promote it, that's not the reason I've never written of it.
I had been on a run, feeling that woozy exhaustion that comes at the end of a good training session, and as my eyes dragged across the ground-too fatigued to focus on anything in particular — I startled myself when without warning an odd, honeycomb looking rock came into focus. Then two more.
Being the obedient runner, whose brain is ingrained by coaches to never cease until the finish line, I continued, but wondered about what in the world I had seen.
Later that day, I returned to where I had spotted the oddities, not so sure that I had spied my first ever morels.
Morel mushrooms are always hollow from the bottom of the stem to the tip of the cap, but they vary significantly in species appearance. Their shape mimics types of light bulbs if the bulb were honeycombed. That comb can be shades of gray, yellow, or black.
In the Northshire region, just as the season for finding black morels winds down, the yellow morels begin to flourish, making for excellent eating over a few spring weeks, just so long as you know how to find them.
There is nothing easy about spotting morels even when you are looking directly at them.
This then could also be why foragers don't often share their hunting grounds: they are challenging to find and make us look like buffoons when saying to a friend, "This area right here was mighty productive last year " and then failing miserably to find anything due to their mighty camouflage.
I re-found my patch in due time; admired the morels shape and peculiar earthy scent with a grin on my face as if I'd unearthed the Hope diamond because it is hard not to be a little full of yourself when independently finding your first morel.
Don't fret, I didn't remain smug for long, and I assure you I went through all the necessary identification checks before harvesting and then eating those scrumptious mushrooms.
Each spring since I regularly visit that patch of ground; somehow now easily recognizing its every rock, its unique landscape of weeds- an aberrant forager blessing of being aware of my surroundings. What a marvelous act that once I saw nothing, and now can discern each mycopia nuance of the season.
Throughout my learning, my boys have been involved. I'd strap them into a stroller and carrier while walking to scout potential new mushroom spots. We'd spend nap times in the car; the boys snoozing in the back and me in the front spotting for honeycomb tips in apple orchards and along roadsides.
As they grew, my boys and I would search the forest looking for morels, knowing mama bear was walking its ridgeline with her cubs, looking for food in a similar way.
We were out there in the pursuit of deliciousness, but who's to say the bears were not? Who's to say we weren't both teaching savory and survival on that very afternoon?
I write of morels now because the time of change has come. Just as I did not first see the morels, I did not see my boys grow before my eyes and become foragers of their own right. Not even at the start of this season would I have known it; still taking them on guided hikes, modeling how to gently move the leaves to reveal treasures below.
Now from the backseat my eldest shouts, "Mama! Stop the car! I just saw morels." He leaps out, assesses all the checks I have taught him from land rights to edibility.
Determines he can proceed here on this long, unpopulated back road. With a gentle overturn of the leaf litter, he carefully, gleefully exposes a pristine patch of black morels.
I would have never seen them, never bothered to notice, but I'm not tasked with that obligation to crush my children with every possible detail on every possible thing. Instead, I am to pass on what I know by doing what I know, survival and enjoyment all tangled together, and watch as my children make it their own.
Tina Weikert is a writer and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Bondville. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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