Some of my earliest fond memories are of my father and his three kids (I was number three) wandering through the woodland of Spring Mill State Park in southern Indiana. We would walk with empty bread bags in hand with high hopes of finding the first mushroom of the season. Sometimes just to make it even more interesting Dad would put a twenty-five cent bounty on the first find of the day!
With these images in mind I set off into our back yard woods – my own two kids are disinterested at the moment – watching cartoons inside. But having found a few dime sized morels near our mailbox, I’m certain the kids will join me soon as news reaches them. I’ve never been on a mushroom hunt in such cold weather – nearly freezing. I bundle up with gloves & hat. My breathe hangs in the still air. I’m searching near Richland Creek on a wooded lot where the leaves are never cleared and the brush sometimes gets prickly – morels in the spring are just icing on a very tall cake.
When hunting mushrooms, you step carefully, always watching… a flattened mushroom is almost too much of an embarrassment to pick – almost. Flattened or not it would still hold flour and an egg wash into the hot grease just as well as if it were perfectly cone shaped.
Twigs and leaves snap and crunch under foot as I walk along the path. Then after spotting the first mushroom, a nice sized white morel, I remember the urge as from childhood – to jump down and pick it! Today I have a slightly different mission. Not just to pick – but to first document, camera in hand… then pick.
The first snap is from the spot where I initially saw the mushroom. Then closer. On my knees. To get in real close – still without picking it. I try and fight the urge to dress the shot. If only it were exposed a bit more or had one less stick blocking my view… but that’s not the way they grow.
A mushroom seed (or whatever you call it before it comes into the light) seems to wait for spring showers to soak the rich woodland soil. It then gets a cue from the sun warmed ground and pops up… only to hide under leaves or within a clump of grass. Don’t even think of coming back tomorrow to pick it when it gets larger. They don’t seem to grow. I’d like to know if anyone has ever seen a mushroom pop from out of the ground – or grow for that matter.
Sometimes when the sun pours down on them through the mostly bare branches overhead a mushroom might shine like a beacon – almost impossible to miss. I find that my new perspective, down, really close to the ground has benefits not just for the pictures being made. It seems today I am surrounded by shining beacons. Click. Pick. and another. Click. Change focus. Click. Pick. Pick. Pick.
A friend of mine broke her ankle and still wanted to search for mushrooms on her family farm. She left her crutches behind and crawled and searched through the leaves and brush only to find a large patch of poison ivy. I stop and think about that. Mushrooms, cut and rinsed in cool water then soaked overnight in saltwater (to be sure the bugs are cleaned out) then dredged in egg and flour are pretty tasty. However a bad case of poison ivy would certainly sour that taste a bit.
I’m surrounded by violets, may apples and other spring ephemera (those plants that are only around long enough to announce the arrival of another mushroom season). I call to Rachel and Jake. And together we walk along Shady Creek trail bread bags in hand.
The kids call out every discovery. With every mushroom they find, its as if never in the history of man something so good has been so free and so it is . . . no need for a bounty today.
[written and photographed in 2006]