You pore over the forest floor.
You scrutinize the leafy detritus, peer between the fiddlehead ferns.
You’re patient. It’s a lovely day in May Up North. The weather has been right.
You have faith that you’ll find the treasure you seek. You have before, on this ground.
You keep stepping carefully, eyes downcast, spirit hopeful.
You spot one! A morel mushroom!
And, suddenly, they materialize right before your eyes, as if you’d put on a kind of 3-D glasses, giving you more vision.
Happy adrenaline imprints the moment in your memory, as you put your pocketknife to work and fill your basket. Like a hunter dressing a big whitetail buck, you will return from the hunt with a trophy and photograph it, then saute it and serve it with venison.
Morel season is one of umpteen aspects that set Up North apart from other areas, like Down Below and Greater Chicago.
Other regions do Morels, too. Someone in Charlestown, Indiana was selling big batches of monster morels on Facebook Marketplace last month.
But you don’t hear bar chatter about morels among Hoosiers. This time of year, the topic ranks up there with the Tigers’ woes, where the walleye are, and the weather as subjects to be discussed at watering holes in the northern tier of the Wolverine State.
The cover photo of the May issue of “Woods-N-Water News: Michigan’s Best Outdoor Publication” is a tight closeup of cupped hands full of yellow morels, with the headline, “May’s Morels.” It looks like a copy of High Times, with perfect honeycomb morels taking the place of resinous marijuana buds. I had to buy one.
The cover story affirms: “We’ve seen an incredible growth in morel hunting in Michigan … The Michigan Department of Natural Resources mentions the numbers of morel hunters is similar to deer hunters in the state.”
The magazine encourages readers to send their morel “trophy photos.” This month’s “Hunt-Fish-Eat” recipe page includes five morel preparations.
Morel season is meaningful in many ways.
Mycelium is the most prolific life form on Earth. Gathering and eating mushrooms is an ancient human activity.
The pioneers who added fungus to the diet of the species were courageous individuals. Mycology — the study of fungus — can be dangerous, if you consume your specimens. There are many delicious mushrooms and many deadly poisonous ones, and they often look alike, such as the morel and its toxic double, the false morel.
So there is intrigue to the mushroom hunt. After centuries of trial and error, the morel emerged as the most delectable, along with the chanterelle and shiitake.
But the latter can be tamed. Morels cannot be. All Morels are wild, by definition. They must be hunted in their natural habitat. And they only appear for a few days, once a year.
Hence the importance of the annual morel season.
There is an ongoing surge in popular interest in mushrooms in the wider world. Building from clubs of amateur mycologists, it gathered momentum out of the public eye in the last decade. That’s when the work of mushroom guru Paul Stamets attracted a following, uniting veteran mushroom hunters — people like me who learned how to look for mushrooms from their grandparents — with people who have seen the sensational documentary “Fantastic Fungi” and have added more mycelium to their lives.
Not just as cuisine, but as medicine. For instance, supplements of the species called turkey tail, which we hunt Up North in the fall, combat cancer!
Watch the film on Netflix.
But, if you catch the spore of mushroom mania and decide to go hunting for them, please stay away from my Morel spot!
Eric Paul Roorda is an author and artist who lives in Harrisville. His cartoons of him appear in the weekend edition of The Alpena News. “The White Tail Family: A Coloring Book” is available for $10 at The News office or at email@example.com.