It’s on. A few weeks back our fickle Indiana weather had me wondering. When I penned last week’s column I thought our morel season would pass us by. But things have changed.
A casual drive down several of our county roads proved they were out in force. Several days of rain followed by welcome warm sunshine meant the time was right. They emerged from various woodlots, their shoes muddy and pants wet from the morning dew. Some held mesh bags loaded with tasty morels while others carried nothing but a walking stick and a look of “shroom gloom”.
Deep down, I think every mushroom hunter believes in divine providence. There is nothing as providential as bags heaped with succulent morels. The taste so divine hunters dream about it all winter. In the spring, they offer enthusiastic prayers to the mushroom gods: May the fungus be among us, please guide us to the mother lode.
No doubt, morels do taste heavenly. But I think it’s the actual hunt that is so addictive, not so much the mushroom itself.
For one thing, it’s fun to find something that’s absolutely free, especially delicacies so expensive in stores and restaurants. It’s like trying to beat the odds with a season that is measured in a few weeks.
Yes, it can be a lot like gambling. A windfall may be hard to come by, but once you’ve had one, you want more. The majority will spend a lot of time walking, not finding anything, quickly turning them into non-believers. And, sometimes people do get lucky, very lucky.
Take George Tragesser for example who for decades has enjoyed this spring time ritual. Tragesser, who resides in Clinton County spent time last week searching numerous woodlots for the tasty fungus. “I hunted for two days and only found seven,” he explained.
Then, on the third afternoon he stumbled onto his biggest find ever. In a small patch of woods bordering a creek bottom Tragesser stood in amazement to see the ground covered with morels, 56 to be exact. “Although I didn’t find the mother of all morels,” he said, referring to a single monster mushroom, “I did find her whole family.”
“Sometimes you get these mutant crops that will just bowl you over,” said Mike McCall, a well-known mushroom aficionado and educator. “I’ve walked out of the woods before only half dressed, triple bagging it with my shirt sleeves tied in knots.”
According to McCall, people get too fixated on elm trees which do provide fertile ground for morels but aren’t the only places they grow. “When you start to see the lavender on lilac buds people need to look everywhere, covering as much ground as possible,” he instructed.
Area resident and “morel maniac” Patty Kindig has hunted morels for over 40 years. It’s her favorite pastime. Her vacations are specifically scheduled around the short, spring time window. “This year’s weather has definitely been screwy,” she explained. “But I guarantee they will be out and the main thing is to get out and look for them.”
But, the huge finds described by Tragesser and McCall are the exception rather than the norm. Just like any consumptive outdoor endeavor, there is always the element of luck. Yes, it’s a lot like gambling.