Morel hunters know in their bones the truth of poet Robert Frost’s eloquent statement that “nature’s first green is gold” — which would be reason enough to pursue the ephemeral delicacy, even in springs like this, when they are hard to come by.
Strolling among little lakes of northern bluebells, hearing the lilting notes of exuberant songbirds, feeling in the soles of your feet the gentle lift of spongy forest soil, you can’t help but enjoy the spring woods.
“The birds sound even better when you’re actually picking mushrooms,” my friend, Arthur Clark, said Tuesday evening during one of the few interludes this spring when we were doing so.
Despite the 50 large, beautiful specimens we collected Tuesday, Arthur concluded we have walked farther for fewer morels than in any other of the more than 50 previous springs we have hunted the tasty fungi together.
More than any of its predecessors, this season has challenged Arthur’s time-tested belief — applicable to all endeavors including mushroom and pheasant hunting — that you will get what you seek if you go far enough often enough.
Following the state’s coldest April on record, we finally found our first Buchanan County morel of the season on May 3 — our latest first find ever, more than five weeks later than our earliest first find, March 28, 2012.
Mistakenly thinking the season had begun, we regularly checked likely spots but did not find another until May 9 — a drought prompting numerous ruminations on whether the woods were too cold, too dry or both.
Still those walks were time well spent.
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During an otherwise fruitless May 5 hunt in the Wapsipinicon River bottoms, as we pushed ever farther into a continually narrowing peninsula, we saw and heard a whitetail deer crashing through the undergrowth ahead of us.
Since she would be unlikely to reverse course and escape between us, we expected to hear loud splashing as she swam to safety.
We hardly noticed we had not, until Arthur spied at the base of a tree just 10 feet in front of him a spotted fawn adhering to its mother’s admonition not to move until she returned.
The fawn, our third such sighting in our half century of morel hunting, stopped us in our tracks. Wishing not to disturb the infant or its no-doubt distressed mother, we backed out the way we came, with no regret at leaving unhunted the no doubt morel-less tip of the peninsula.
Notwithstanding our lackluster season, some hunters have killed, and I am happy for them as long as I am not coming along behind them to observe their stubs and envy their success.
My wife Corinne, who has never picked a mushroom, has come up with a theory to explain the 2018 morel failure.
“You know how fish will sometimes reabsorb their eggs when spawning conditions are not suitable,” she said. “Well, that’s what happened with the mushrooms this spring. They gave up when April was so cold.”
Works for me. Maybe we’ll get a double crop next year.