by Brady Raymond
photos by Paul Hill. View all of Paul’s burn photos at Seattle Roamer and don’t forget to check out his other mushroom photo albums.
An uneasy feeling sets in walking around a landscape like this, the stark desolation envelops you, cutting through to the bone. It is a reminder of the inevitable, the reality of our own mortality. After walking around a few minutes you find your first mushroom, not a morel but a mushroom none the less. As you are examining it your hunting buddy shouts “I found one!” you toss your find aside and start to make your way in their direction. They shout again “Got two, three, they’re everywhere!” You tell yourself to slow down, you look up, take a deep breath and look back down. “They’re everywhere!” you shout. For the next couple of hours you fill your basket as giddy laughs echo through the forest. This is burn morel hunting, you’ve heard the stories and now you’re doing it.
Morels don’t necessarily need burns to grow but do grow prolifically in them if temperature and moisture levels are sufficient. As far as I know it is not fully understood why they fruit en masse after burns but it may have to do with stress. Like morels that grow around dead elms or in old orchards, the thought is that as the trees in which they have formed mycorrhiza with die, it is enough of a stressor to trigger them to reproduce. This seems like a reasonable assumption, yet a simple internet search may prove this author to be a novice beginner full of fluff and banter.
If you’ve never hunted a burn remember that there are dangers associated with this and not just a kink in the neck from looking down all day. Deep chasms from burned out trees, loose ground on steep hills and washouts of treacherous boulder crossings. If you are not fleet of foot this may not be for you. Conversely, if you are adverse to getting dirty and by dirty I mean filthy, this may not be for you. But, if you do fancy yourself an adventurer and have an insatiable hunger for morels this is your best bet of loading up for the season, so much so it is recommended you have a dehydrator waiting at home. Dehydrating morels is an excellent way to preserve them.
It is not uncommon either to get morel eye, this is a strange affliction, one that haunts you awake and asleep. When you blink or shut your eyes all that you see will be morels, of course I’m half joking but that means I’m half serious too. Anybody who’s found pounds of morels at a time knows what I’m talking about. You will start to see morels everywhere, not necessarily mistaking things for them like a pine cone but actually getting glimpses of them popping up from underneath your couch, or at the base of a lamp and coming out of baseboard. It’s brief but it’s very real once you’re hooked and the season is in full swing.
Three, four even five weeks into the season, higher and higher up the mountain side your still finding them. “When will this end, how could it?” you wonder. It ends when you hit the highest point of the burn, in the cascades that’s probably somewhere between 5000-6000ft. Once trees give way to jagged peaks your luck has run its coarse, at least for this year. Five straight weeks of hunting morels has yielded twenty plus pounds of morels for you, quart mason jars stuffed to the brim with the dried fungi and they are all yours. As summer sets in the morel fever subsides, your friends are happy that you can now attend their various functions and are glad to talk to you about anything but mushrooms yet happily eat the morel cream sauce crostinis you brought. In the back of your mind though you know that somewhere out there is the last morel standing.