Searching for morel mushrooms5/6/2015
“When the lilacs bloom, it’s time to start. Although some people do wait for the dandelions.”
That’s good advice for almost any endeavor, don’t you think?
“Everybody has a theory as to where you find morels. I just go wandering through the woods with Max. Usually around dead or dying elms. But I’ve found them anywhere. No point to where they might be.”
A young man with a young wife and a young family living in an old farmhouse outside of Des Moines, Beau is my guide. He is rakishly engaging, and may, I suspect, have spent his youth in perpetual time-out. Just a guess. Certainly that “who me” grin and twinkling eyes says he’s your man if you are up for a bit of harmless mischief.
Today, however, Beau is already committed. He’s going to take me out to find morels. Mushrooms, that is. Cooked in butter and lightly salted — a gift for a king and a queen. I can hardly wait to fry our first batch.
At least that’s what I thought we were doing.
Beau tells me shortly that’s not what we’re doing… as we stand in mud a mile up a creek bordering a cornfield.
“Whenever I go to look for morels, I’m really just going out to go for a walk in the country.”
What? We’re not looking for mushrooms? Then what are we doing slogging through this Iowa countryside?
“See that blue heron. It’s just drifting upstream, working the creek. I need to show you their nests.
“This creek is shallow. It is my favorite spot because usually there is a beaver dam down that direction. The entire dam is usually corn stalks.
“Look at that big nest. See that red-tailed hawk on that branch over there? They’ve had that nest there for three or four years.
OK, OK, Beau, I see the deer tracks in the mud, and I see those wild raspberries, and, yes, sure enough, that is asparagus growing right there. But what about the mushrooms?
“Oh, generally I just kind of mosey around until I find them.”
Lord help me.
What is going on here? What is this moseying-around business? Nanci Ross is an assistant professor at Drake University in ethnobotany (“humans interacting with plants and the landscape”). Charmingly open and friendly and smart, Dr. Ross is no fool, and I’m hoping she can explain why I’m out on this fool’s errand with Beau.
“We think we are separate from nature. This idea is something that has evolved fairly recently. This is a new thing in human history. It’s very prevalent in Western culture, the separation of man and nature.”
Dr. Ross gives me a small smile to make sure I’m paying attention.
“This separation from nature is a figment. We have lost this holistic relationship with our landscape. But we still feel it. We are a part of that world. We are a member of nature. And we have always been aware of this. We have a gut feeling that we are a part of it and an intellectual feeling that we are not. And it’s a conflict. So I think we go out in nature to seek this connection, this feeling it gives us, a little bit of a sense of peace. Out of our mind and into our heart.”
“When people are out looking for morel mushrooms, they are looking for this connection with nature. Here’s the funny thing. I have been out looking for morel mushrooms, and I’m actually allergic to mushrooms. I found them and left them. I certainly wasn’t going to eat them. To be out and looking around. That is what’s going on.”
Oh, I get it. That’s what Beau and I are doing. We are looking around and hanging out. Chilling with nature.
But, listen, while we are here, Dr. Ross, where did you say you found those mushrooms that you left behind? I think I could be even more holistic if I could find just one measly morel mushroom.
Apparently, that is not to be today.
Our lack of luck is no matter to Beau. With twinkling eyes, Beau told me of a further bonus to our gallivanting in the woods.
“Make sure you have your wife check you for ticks,” Beau chuckles. “All over. That’s the other benefit of looking for morels.”
[Yesterday, Beau took me to the mother lode — I’m not saying where — but rest assured, I’m feeling more one with nature.] CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.