On Seeing MorelsWednesday, April 21, 2010
The scent in the orchards is intoxicating, but knowing that when the apple trees bloom the morels are about to appear makes us delerious. We grab our mushroom bag, pocket-knife and camera and bolt in to the woods.
Of course, finding the first morel won't be easy, so we look for other signs that the season is right. From long experience we know that columbines bloom in the kind of places that morels like, and do so at the same time as the mushrooms poke their heads through the forest leaf-litter. We are relieved and encouraged when we see the flowers nodding in the dappled sunlight.
It sometimes seems like these fungi have the ability to disguise themselves -- as if guided by some pre-vegetal intelligence. Their color and texture certainly aid in their deception -- but their tendency to emerge from beneath the edge of a rock, or in the shadow of a decayed stick, or at the base of some thorny shrub, suggests the sort of protective strategies that can only arise from self-awareness. Logic compels us to believe that this is not the case, but the search for morels -- especially the unproductive search for morels -- can lead a mushroom hunter to some unusual suppositions. Occasionally, morels can be found in the open -- foolishly sticking their heads into the spring sunshine:
But far more often they are hiding -- as if they know that there is an omelet in their future:
We've always known how important it is to go back over the same area where we've just looked for morels. Sometimes the slant of the light, or angle of view, will reveal the mushrooms' formerly unnoticed hiding places. But another odd phenomenon is less obvious -- and it has more to do with the hunter than the hunted.
One can only look intensely at a patch of ground for a minute or so before the mind begins to wander. The eyes seem to lose focus -- and, just then, a morel appears. It's usually in plain sight, but just at the edge of the area we've just been scanning intently. It's almost as if the unconscious mind continues the hunt -- but more effectively -- while the conscious mind drifts.