Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Now that I have come out about my teen age years of secret breast feeding, I have to admit that my reputation as a former feral child has been a little overblown. And I should say also - though I quit the tit many years ago - that my subsequent years of hunting and gathering were made a little easier by somewhat unnatural practices such as occasional refrigerator burglary, the gathering of road kill, the use of Rapid Grow fertilizer on wild plants, and also by selling woodland foods which are worth more for money, than for nourishment. Especially mushrooms, and particularly Morels, which were fantastically plentiful in the sixties and seventies when they thrived on the elms then conspicuously dying in the Ithaca area . I sold to a few hip local restaurants and distributed more to a couple of Cornell students from the N.Y.C. area, who paid for trips home by taking them to the restaurants down there. For a time, that trade enabled me to go to the movies, drink in bars, and take women out to dinner, or buy them groceries, even though I may have been living in a brush pile or a dug-out at the time.
Nourishing or not, I have a taste for Morels myself; but it is a little conflicted by an identification I feel with them. It is a delicious fact that mushrooms have a meaty texture and flavor, and it is a biological fact that they actually exist somewhere between the plant and animal kingdoms, so it should be no surprise that in addition to their gastronomical qualities, they have the beginnings of such qualities of intelligence as secretiveness, elusiveness, self-interest, and humor.
You laugh? You should. Right now, there are serious people with grants, working to combine the genes of mushrooms with those of the musk rat, or the chicken, in an attempt to develop meat that doesn't care what happens to it and has no legal advocates.
Oh, but they do care.
From a lifetime of hunting them, during which they have often made a fool of me, I know a thing or two about the sentient life of mushrooms. At other times, when not being fooled with, I have made a real killing on them..... and felt real remorse. Morels live on the dead, but they do not kill, and they are vegetarians.
And like the rest of us, they need not just food, but moisture. Not only is there a shortage of dead elms hereabouts now days, but we have had several years in a row of drought - at least during April, when the Morels are preparing to fruit. We have had some hard rains now and then, but mostly too much in too short a time.
Today though, we are having the first real rainy day I can remember for a couple of years.
I can sit here quietly and feel the turgor pressure building in all the erect plants and the fungal mycillia darting in the soil, the nodes forming close to the surface, swelling and yearning to be individual morels, distinct from the matted masses.
Within weeks or days, when the Lilacs are blooming, the fiddleheads unfurling, the May apples beginning to flower, I will walk out to some ash woods, or old orchard, or sandy stream side , sweeping the ground ahead with my eyes until I see in the periphery of my vision ( or think I might see) a lone morel. Or maybe it will be a smell, or maybe just a vibration from the ground, or an intuition, or nothing but a hope.....and I will sit down right there, being careful not to look directly at what I might have seen from the corner of my eye, sit down and go about having a smoke, pretending to look only for my fixings, or matches, only idly looking about, not really looking, not focusing, trying to think about a distant subject.....until they begin to pop up around me, and then, before they can grow thrrugh me, or run off or wither, I will rise and begin to harvest, carefully and humanely cutting them off at ground level, stopping after I pick each one to thank it, asking forgiveness. and I will be carrying them off in a net bag, so as to scatter spores everywhere.
Magical superstition you say? Hokum pokus? Unscientific fancy? Oh sure, I agree. But it is my method, not my religion. And it works.
Let their be morels.