GAYS MILLS - As I stood in my yard raking up leaves and debris for the hundredth time this weekend, I found myself looking up the hillside in hopes of searching for some morels.
It is nearly the time of year where you really can’t walk anywhere without looking down because, despite common beliefs, morels can be found all over.
One year when I worked in a group home in LaFarge, we had taken our clients out for a walk on the paved Old 131 trail.
It was a beautiful spring day just like the ones we’ve been having lately. For some reason (perhaps there had been a flood that fall or early spring, I don’t really recall), there was a big pile of gravel along the side right near the beginning of the trail. As we were walking along, I spotted what I thought were mushrooms poking up among the rocks. At first, I admit I thought I was going crazy. No way could there be morels popping forth from a random pile of gravel. But, low and behold, there they were. Authentic, real life morels, albeit they seemed a bit beat up from their work penetrating the rocky soil.
My grandpa Ray (or for you WDRT listeners, Uncle Ray Hadley) is rather superstitious and sentimental about morel hunting and the certain trees, which produce.
Not exactly the type of tree, but the exact tree it self. For instance he could walk the woods behind his old farmhouse outside of Readstown and recall every mushroom bonanza from every tree for the last 40-plus years.
One tree in particular he called Rhonda’s Tree, after my mom, who was the ONLY person who would ever find mushrooms underneath it.
I can’t remember the species of tree, but it had been producing mushrooms under it since the early 1970s, according to my grandpa. Legend has it; my mom could walk up to the large tree on the fenceline and come back down the hill with pounds and pounds of the prized fungus. However, whenever my grandpa would go up there alone, he would find nothing.
My brother and I walked the hillside with him and up to that tree a few years ago and found several pounds of perfectly formed mid-season yellow morels. My grandpa seemed overwhelmed by the excitement of seeing mushrooms under the tree again.
Always the jokester however, he also once took my friend Stephanie and I out for a mushroom hunting adventure about eight years ago, when he was a young pup of only 78.
Stephanie and I were unaccustomed at the time as freshly minted 21 year olds to waking up early and hitting the woods. We got out there anyway and charged up the hill with Grandpa, who bought us chocolate milks (in retrospect, maybe not the greatest choice of beverages when it’s hot and you’re hiking in the woods).
Once in the woods we reached a clearing, huffing and puffing. Grandpa Ray asked, “Do you smell them girls? Do you smell the mushrooms?” We immediately began sniffing as hard as we could—so hard you would think we were trying to pull them from the ground with the power of our nostrils alone.
All the while, grandpa stood, snickering at us. However, when we stopped our furious sniffing and opened our eyes there were more morels that I’ve ever seen in one spot.
Morels also make their way into one of my favorite early dating moments with Chasca.
I had come back to visit him from Madison and he took me to a friend’s land to go mushroom hunting. I was elated to find out that we would be doing ‘lazy man’s’ mushroom hunting on an ATV, for being red-faced and sweaty and showing how truly out of shape you are isn’t the most attractive first date look.
We, accompanied by a pack of elderly dogs, scoured the hillside and found a decent haul (which he later cooked for us and sent the extras home with me, like a real Wisconsin gentlemen).
As we were driving down the hill Chasca was looking along the side of the trail. I, who fancy myself having really good vision didn’t really see anything but a blur of woods fly past. But Chasca squealed the ATV to a halt and without saying anything jumped off and took off running into the woods. He came walking back slightly winded from his sudden burst of exercise, with a rather sizeable morel, that I still don’t know how he spotted, but I’ve learned not to question his bionic eye.
Hopefully by the time my column hits newsstands, we’ll begin seeing reports of morels coming up in all of the expected and unexpected places.