Gathering morels can test one’s outdoor skills — and fate

A wide spectrum of citizenry goes afield each year in search of tasty mushrooms. (Photo by Jerry Davis)

To some who’ve never looked, found, picked, and eaten morels, you are in for a treat, success, frustration, confusion, and thoughts of giving up – but you will be hooked. Sometimes the one who gathers goes through all those phases in a single day. Or morning.

At times it can be worse than trout fishing. Morels are underground, not just under water. They’re only visible for about a month during the year. No calls, bait or odor detection helps.

The more one learns it seems the more that can go wrong. Morels are usually found under dead elms, but the majority of ded elms do not have morels growing there in May, or at least not when you were there looking.

The weather can be too cold, too dry, even too warm. The white elms seem to be disappearing. The red elms are not as good a host when they die. Someone got there first and left little, hollow stumps just to put a stick in your eye. Why can’t they stomp out the stumps so there are no clues of being out-smarted?

Or you could be one of 10-25 percent of the population who cannot eat them without becoming ill, but not die. Morel allergy, it’s called.

Still, morel hunting, picking, searching, and gathering tests one’s persistence, tenacity, woodsmanship, tree knowledge, landowner persuasion, and culinary ability. Sometimes that’s not enough.

Think of morel gathering as one might about deer hunting: The hunt needs to be more fulfilling than the kill, we’re told. With morel gathering, the foray needs to be more gratifying than a basketful of hyphal morsels.

Convince a 50-year-old man, wet to his skin, brambles even inside his clothing and a plastic bag that was ripped open by a thorn and is now empty.

Still, he’s likely to be back out there the next day to try again.

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