Magazine article The Christian Century


Magazine article The Christian Century


Article excerpt

OF ALL THE SIGNS of spring, the morel mushroom is arguably the most ephemeral and enigmatic. Perhaps this is why morel mania descends for a week or two each spring, as people disappear into the woods, hoping to emerge with hats, caps, and sacks full of the elusive mushrooms.

I've never found any morels in the woods around my house, but that's mostly due to lack of time for searching. This year I had more time, and so each day for almost a week, I tramped through the woods, eyes scanning the forest floor for the distinctive Christmas tree shape of a dull tan morel poking up through last year's maple and oak leaves.

As I scanned the ground, I also scanned my brain for morel lore. Loamy moist soil, but not too wet. Disturbed ground is best--flooded areas or burn sites. Look on the south slope of hills. Or is it the north? Wait until the nighttime temperatures are in the 50s and the days in the 60s. Today it's almost 80--is that too hot?

I searched the ground, and my brain, but to no avail.

During the week, everyone from my car mechanic to my cabinetmaker had advice. I knew enough not to ask them to share a favorite spot, but I did learn that morels like to hang around certain trees. Some people say ash, or wild cherry, or cottonwood, sycamore, and apple. But everyone agreed that the tree morels love best is elm. Dead elms are, apparently, morel magnets. But even better than a dead elm is a dying elm--one with most of its bark still on, according to my source, but with few if any leaves.

The next day I went out mushroom hunting again, this time with my niece. We looked both in my woods and in my parents' woods. We even bushwhacked along the pasture fence where Grandpa found them years ago. We found live elms and dead elms. We even found some wild strawberry plants. But no morels. We consoled ourselves that it had gotten too hot too fast--and much too dry. Probably not a good year for morels at all.

That evening, heavy battleship clouds came sailing in from the west about an hour before dark. The shower passed quickly and turned the earth an even more vivid green as the evening sun slanted through the trees, transforming the drops hanging from each leaf into jewels more precious than jewels. After dark the rain came in earnest, wave upon wave.

Then the electricity cut out, as it tends to do during thunderstorms where I live. …

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