Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hunting for mushrooms

Friday morning, Dave and I woke early to walk our woods, looking for mushrooms. We took off striding down the driveway. “We’re supposed to be looking,” Dave said,” not racing, right?” We grinned at each other and slowed down.

I love walking the woods looking for flowers, but that’s completely different than looking for mushrooms. When searching for flowers, I walk, head bent, eyes drifting back and forth across the forest floor, alert for splashes of color. Blue – violets. Small white – wood anemone. Big white – showy trillium. Yellow – bellwort. The flowers practically jump out at me as I walk. Even the tiny greenish flowers of the early meadow rue are obvious.

Mushrooms are not obvious. I have to train my eyes to ignore the bright splashes of green, white, yellow, blue. I look for off white and dun brown in the beige and rust and brown of last summers dead leaves. I look for order, for repeated structure, for a particular visual pattern in the chaos of leaf duff stirred by passing deer and April’s winds.

We are looking for morels, that king of mushrooms in Minnesota woods. That fungus so precious that successful mushroom hunters don’t even tell friends and family where they find the tasty morsels.

The grosbeaks are singing. Pileated woodpeckers declare their territory with a hollow tattoo on a dead tree in the back yard. The crab apple buds are fat and pink in the early morning light. The woods smell green and full of life, a moist, earthy scent unique to late spring and early summer mornings.

It’s a perfect morning, but not a morning to find morels.

We spent the rest of the day in the gardens. Dave planted two patches of sweet corn and set tomato plants deep into the rich tilth of the vegetable garden while I dropped the tiny seeds of carrots, lettuce, arugula, cilantro and spinach into shallow rows scratched into the crumbly surface. The potatoes and peas are up. We protected the brassicas from slugs with plastic tubes and from vicious cabbage moths and voracious rabbits with hardware cloth cages.

My sun garden is a mess of grasses that either creep in from the edges or are carried in with the straw mulch. The stems break when I pull them and the roots resprout in a matter of days, unless I wet the garden thoroughly first. Then when I pull gently on the green blades, the root follows, inch after inch of strong white defiance. It seems like any piece of root left in the ground will create new grasses, so I feel intense satisfaction when I can pull an entire foot of grass root from my flower garden – one less plant to pull next time. The flowers are up and flourishing. I can hardly believe that only six years ago, this garden was a piece of hayfield. Now it’s home to lamia, asters, phlox, tulips and other spring bulbs, iris, columbine, day lilies, asiatics, gailardia, and my herbs – chives, peppermint, and oregano. The thyme has died again.

After supper, Dave and I left our gardens and headed for the Twin Cities. We traditionally spend Memorial weekend with our daughter Amber and her husband Jesse, painting their beautiful old house in Minneapolis. The traffic approaching us was insane, a slowly moving parking lot - car after car escaping from the big city toward the country we were leaving.

Saturday morning, Amber made a pot of tea and we took it outside with us to look at her garden. The scent of lilacs and lily of the valley hung heavy in the early morning air. The roar of jets overhead and the wail of sirens were more than a match for the enthusiastic cardinal in the walnut tree next door. We admired the irises and wild ginger in Amber’s rain garden and without any conscious thought began to pull weeds as we walked. The weeds were no different in the city than at home, but Amber had fewer than we did.

Suddenly, beside the dandelion I was pulling in the garden next to Amber’s back porch, I recognized a familiar pattern in the black dirt. Two hundred miles from my wild, pure woodlands, in the middle of a noisy, bustling city, grew a morel.


  1. Its amazing where they choose to grow. Wherever you least expect I guess.