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Thursday, April 23, 2009
I never believed that whole equinox thing -- spring never arrives in March in the Hudson Valley. For a time I thought April first (opening day of trout season) was the real first day of spring, but that -- invariably -- was a cruel joke for fly fisherfolk. Consequently, I've given up on calendar dates for such an important beginning.

Spring officially arrives with the first morel of the season.

I started looking a couple of days ago, to no avail. Then the weatherman promised a few days of rain, followed by warming -- just the sort of news an amateur mycologist wants to hear. So, today, even 'though it was still cool and gray, I entered the woods in search of the wily Morchella esculenta.

There was some botanical promise: Field Pussytoes bloomed on the rocky ledges where I often find morels. Wild Columbine -- which usually blooms when the morels are popping up -- were in bud, waiting to begin nodding in the first day of warm sun. Occasional Dog-tooth Violets and one small Bloodroot showed their blossoms against the dead leaves of the departing winter.

There I was stooped over, mushroom bag in one hand, a small knife in the other, creeping through the woods. Have you ever watched a robin hunting for worms? The morel hunter looks very similar. Both take a few hesitant steps, stop, then take a few more. Every once in a while, each freezes in his tracks, then cocks his head to get a better angle from which to view his potential quarry. When the game is found, each swoops down, lest the worm -- or mushroom -- effect an escape. OK, morels don't actually escape -- but if an unwary hunter takes his eye off the mushrooms, even for a second, or changes his angle of view even slightly, the morel's natural invisibility takes over and the hunter is foiled.

But not today. Despite the gray weather, which helps the morels to hide by eliminating their shadows, fifteen small morels were found. Spring has officially arrived in the valley.


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