Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mushrooms in the Ozarks

Those of us living in the Show Me state tend to get excited about tangible things, which most definitely include morel mushrooms. Due to the heavy rain this year, morels are being found in record numbers. My sister-in-law has been combing the woods and shared her abundant supply with me.

I grew up in the heart of the Ozarks where mushroom hunting should qualify as a sport. During my years of hunting, I’ve been chased by bulls, came within a hairs’ breath of stepping on a copperhead, came eyeball-to-eyeball with a snake hanging out of a tree, jumped creeks, balanced on a log to cross a ravine, slid down embankments—just to mention a smattering of the dangers involved. Rather than suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because of my innumerable misadventures, I think of mushroom hunting with fondness.

At mushroom time, the woods come alive. Dogwood, redbud, and wildflowers burst into bloom. Mayflowers open their umbrellas, birds chirp, twitter, whistle and squawk, squirrels chatter and dance precariously on limbs, the scent of wild onions and garlic fill the air. There’s something refreshing about carrying a walking stick and pushing aside nature’s ground cover to find a perfect morel poking up through the leaves.

It is best to hunt with a partner so that when you wander into dangerous situations, someone has your back. I was always confident hunting with Jim and knew he would see that nothing would harm me. I remember one year Jim found a patch of mushrooms and didn’t pick any of them. He led me to them and let me “find” them. If you aren’t a mushroom hunter, you don’t realize how symbolic that is of true love.

You notice I didn’t say anything about hunting mushrooms this year. For all my fond memories, I haven’t braved the snakes and ticks to find those little darlings. It’s something I long to do, but haven’t been motivated to do. In life, we constantly balance memories against reality. The sun is shining today, and we had more rain yesterday. Wait—is that the siren song of a great spring mushroom hunting day I hear outside my patio doors?

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