Morels! Tis the season….almost…..
In the early stages of spring an elusive, yet delicious, fungi begins popping from the dampened earth throughout the midwest. Morels are a true wild delicacy that have yet to be predictably produced in home gardens or greenhouses. The mushroom entices novices and pros alike to take to the dew drenched woods, hiking scarcely stamped paths. With the unseasonably warm weather that has taken over Southern Illinois this week it might be time to start the hunt.
I was introduced to the sort of sport about three years ago. Living on the border of Illinois and Missouri I am surrounded by beautiful State Parks to traverse. Parks are the abundant alternative for those seeking to hike without access to excessive privately owned acreage.
But, I have deviated. This is not a fact sheet on how to hunt mushrooms but more of spotlight on the benefits and local possibilities for the antsy wanderer.
FOCUS AND ENGAGEMENT:
When searching for morels, you have to be fully engaged and focused on your surroundings….that is if you intend to be successful. Absorption is not only key to hunting but also the greatest benefit in my opinion. You have to learn about your environment, tree types, ground temperatures and soil distinctions, for starters. Additionally, you have to be knowledgeable about mushroom species that have evolved to replicate the morel but can cause illness. When this knowledge is gained you become part of your surroundings instead of simply existing amidst them.
Each weekend I would follow the warming ground temperatures from the southernmost parks in Missouri through the northern parks of Illinois. It is amazing the landscape changes of a 3 hour drive. Bluffs and a slate terrain litter the Missouri woods while a brown hue categorizes most of southern Illinois. I noticed the differing types of foliage that dotted each State Park. I saw the dampness of the soil. I noticed the beauty of the spring greens intermittently popping through the dead leaves of last fall. I discerned the tree types, the differences in bark and leaf shape. To be cliche’, I felt in tune with nature while satisfying my travel bug in short bursts.
While hiking itself induces tranquility and self reflection, when you are hiking with a purpose you want to keep going. I repeat, YOU WANT TO KEEP GOING FOREVER. You don’t always feel the burning in your calves or continuously calculate the miles trekked. You get mad when the sun starts to set, even though you watched it rise over the same hills hours ago. It becomes a competition with yourself. You are in the moment….the glory of your day could lie just beyond that hill.
Every year you will see extended families filing into parks, bogged down with backpacks, walking sticks and breathable bags. Generations of the very young through the very old hobble through the woods, never taking their eyes off the ground. Each generation has learned spotting techniques from an elder. After the hike, the findings bond families further as the mushrooms are brought home to cook up in the style specific to their tribe’s tastes.
When I look to travel I often overlook places that are within day trip distance. I want to see something different. How diverse could the social and physical landscape be in a short four hour drive? The truth is a lot.
If we look at the subtle differences from city to city, from Rural to Urban, even a 15 minute drive can change the way you see your region. Every subculture has a tradition just waiting to be learned. Looking for a new way to cook up those delicious forest nuggets? Grandma Betty from three towns over may have the perfect solution. Always twisting your ankles on those rocky hillsides? Jeff coming up the slope looks pretty sturdy in those nice hiking boots, maybe he has some recommendations?
And does the beauty of exploring what nature has to offer even need to be mentioned? We all fawn over sunsets, and foggy woods, let’s put down the postcards and pick up our backpacks. Get out there and see life, see nature, see culture, and most importantly SEE MUSHROOMS.