Archive | April, 2012

This just never gets old…

23 Apr

There are some sensations out there that never get tired or old, and they are the sensations that keep us going back into the brush, the cold, the wet, whatever it requires to savor that sensation one more time.

And again.

One of those sensations is the anticipation as you walk in behind a pointing dog that is frozen in place by the whimsical aroma of “scent,” that tells the pup that the game is afoot.

Another, totally different, but just as thrilling, is the moment when a floating dry fly is intercepted by a trout. The rise comes as a “slurp,” “swirl,” or a “pop.” Regardless, the moment of the rise is instantly followed by the flick of the rod tip that “sets the hook,” followed in another instant by the surging, throbbing run of a hooked fish.

It is, for the angler, a moment frozen in time that can be re-created again and again without diminishing the first time or wearing thin in the repetition.

The moment a flock of ducks or geese commit to the phony set in front of your blind; that moment when all doubt of the outcome evaporates as the flying formation all drop their feet to use as rudders in the final approach to the “kill slot” you designed when you set out the decoys is another moment that never gets old.

In foraging, it’s the first mushroom found in a new woods.

In Iowa even the woods across the pond is somewhat new to us; the rest of the woods in this woods-rich environment all qualify as virgin to us.

But there is this one woods adjacent to Rathbun Lake in southeastern Iowa that just looked like it had to have morels in season.

I discovered the woods as I drifted across the lake two years ago when the connection between my gas tank and the motor on the duck boat broke just minutes after I had launched for an exploratory duck hunt.

The wind, what little there was, went to work drifting me to the shore opposite of where I had launched. I had ample time to observe the woods that was welcoming me. I also spent time plotting how I would walk my boat down that shoreline to another launch site, and calling the ever-patient, geographically-challenged partner back home to elicit her rescue operation.

She had never been to where I had launched. She didn’t have the maps, they were in my truck. She had to be talked in… but we lost cell service as soon as I hit shore, and she was flying blind until I hiked a mile up the hill into cell service.

But to the woods.

This part of Iowa is mostly oak and hickory. There are many other types of trees, but the overwhelming population consists of red and white oak and hickory – smooth and shaggy bark hickory. There are occasional cottonwoods, some scattered other softwood trees that morel hunters are familiar with, but our mushrooms here mostly live where tag alders and other dense growths abut the taller, harder species. And if there are cedars mixed in, that seems to be a good combination as well.

As I drifted toward that far shore, I knew, just knew, that woods would hold morels.

The following spring didn’t afford much time or interest in being out there, but the thought of combining an early season bluegill search with some morel hunting never faded. The woods, I knew, would hold morels.

Boy howdy, did it ever.

That first morel, some 20 minutes into my first walk in the woods, was a glowing yellow/orange omen in the shade of those alders. It was keeping company with four other of the same coloration and size. They weighed in at about 5 to the pound.

In the next hour and a half I caught 12 more of these giants and one Johnny-come-lately “gray” that had just emerged.

This spring has been abnormally warm. We had 80 degrees in March; I picked morels in March for the first time in my life. The spring is so early that it caught everyone and everything by surprise. The turkeys behind the house have now been gobbling off and on for 6 weeks as the overnight lows have flexed from 33-65.

The morels on this trip were past prime. The ‘roons were still very edible, but certainly not as great as they would have been earlier.

One of the challenges of finding mushrooms in a new environment is learning nature’s keys to the beginning of the season. In many places – Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon – the flowering of the lilacs in the yard send foragers afield.

That was way too early here. Trip after trip in March were fruitless long after the lilacs were in full bloom. But what I noticed and will investigate further is the Mayapple. Also known as the “umbrella plant,” this early spring resident of our woods grows a single white bloom in the spring, then turns that flower into a single “apple” that matures in late summer.

We had an excellent crop of the green apples last May, and we were planning on making “Mayapple jelly” later in the year, but the entire crop was consumed by the critters in our woods before they ever got “ripe.”

But looking at the morels we caught in the “later stages” of this unlikely year, we should have been catching morels when the first blooms appeared on the Mayapples. We’ll test that next year, you can be sure.

We’ll also find another woods to explore for the first time… because that experience of going out there and finding the first morel in a new woods just never gets old.

(Any morel hunter who can recall the times when the ‘roons seemed to appear after you had already looked at that spot and found none will understand why we think we “catch” them rather than finding them – dhb)