by Brady Raymond
I had already been out on one walk for the day, doing a little birding, trying to figure out a few plants and thinking about all the work that needs to get done on the trails for summer. I came inside to get some water and like always my Jack Russell was there to greet me, wagging his nub of a tail in a playful puppy kind of way despite his twelve years of age. I could tell he needed a walk so I decided to head out again. Just a quick spin around the compound. Unbeknownst to me that my first Morel of the year was only a few short minutes away from being found.
As I crossed the creek into “Salixland” my senses focused in on the surroundings. Truth be told, I was thinking more about seeing some Warblers, maybe even a few new ones to add to my home bird list. We’ve had Yellow-Rumped Warblers all over the place lately and I think there have been a few other species of birds among them but I never seem to have my binoculars on me when I really need them. As my brain processed these thoughts I passed through the first stand of Willow trees and headed out through the Reed Canary Grass to a second stand of Willows a little further down the trail.
As I entered the woods my eyes adjusted to the lower light, I throttled down my pace a bit to optimal birding speed and continued on. I glanced downward to watch my step and what would you know, right in front of me just ten feet away stood my first Morel of the 2019 season and my first Morel at our new home. Surprised, I said aloud “There’s a Morel” then a giddy grin stretched across my face and a fuzzy feeling engulfed the whole of my body.
I shuttered in excitement, spinning around and taking off for home. I had to tell Erin, I had to get my camera, and the kids and, and… I ran back as fast as I could, for about thirty yards and then I realized running is hard and as excited as I was, the Morel, hopefully, was not going anywhere and it didn’t matter whether I ran or not. So I walked the rest of the way, disheveled and out of breath but none the less still elated at my find.
Erin was excited to hear news of Morels. Telling the tale was enough to elicit a second wind out of my tired body and we quickly gathered the kids, camera, and dog then set out to capture this elusive mushroom. As we approached our voices became a whisper and time started to slow down, or so it seemed. I pointed to the mushroom and said; “Behold, the glory of the Morel.” In awe, we stood and admired the tiny fungi, but it wasn’t long before the shutterbug got me and I had to set up for the shot.
I had found a few Verpa bohemica on the property a week earlier, at the end of the trail, near some young Cottonwood trees. I had assumed that any Morels I would find if I were so lucky, would be in that area nearer to the Cottonwoods. An area that I have been avoiding as of late because a Robin decided to build her nest over that way and gets rather testy (as she should) when I get near her hatchlings. So I set up my camera, unmolested by any angry birds and began composing my shot.
After a couple of photos, Erin and the kids decided to head back to the house. I was going to stay awhile and spend some more time with the mushroom. As my daughter stood up she displaced some of the forest duff sliding a stick right into the Morel knocking it over. My first Morel of 2019 at our own house was now just laying on its side, my photo shoot was ruined. I guess the one decent picture I took will have to do, it is proof though. Well, as much proof as a digital photo can be. I scoured the area but alas there were no more Morels. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a much larger fruiting to come. Hopefully.
Don’t hasten too quickly in your quest to conquer the mountains and shatter Morel haul records this year, you don’t want to miss all the other splendors nature has to offer. I’m no bug expert but I do appreciate a good segmented body design and butterflies fit that bill beautifully. I was able to capture a nice shot of Nymphalis antiopa also known as the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. It is just one of five or six species that I have noticed fluttering around lately, and the only one to sit still for me. Its larvae are fond of eating Willow leaves, hence why I see so many around my place.
Down the road, a mile or so is a trail that takes you up into Shrub-Steppe territory, a fairly short but unforgiving trail that I doubt has more than ten level feet of ground for two miles and it’s all uphill until you turn around. I hit that trail a week ago with the intent of scouting for mushrooms and although I didn’t find any I had a great time none the less. I saw plenty of wildlife, a falcon soared above while a turkey scurried through the scrub below. A small herd of deer grazed on young buds while a grouse spooked and took shelter in a nearby tree. All this I may have missed if it weren’t for the call of the mushroom.
Most of the trail is on a North facing slope and many of the flowers were still shrouded in sepal. There were a few out though, and so I snapped a picture of the flower above, which was playing host to some beetle debauchery. I may try my luck again next week looking for Morels. There are a few hundred acres of forest draped over the uneven terrain and if I can get my timing right, I think it may be a Morel haven.
Things are shaping up to be a good season. We’ve had plenty of snowfall and although our home has been spared by the rain as of late, I’ve seen large squalls passing through the valley dumping what’s leftover from their trip across the Cascades. If you do make it over the pass this coming week, know that you may still be a little early but also know that if you stay alert you will have plenty to see and will garner many new experiences to relish in until the next time you can get out. And hey, if you only find one Morel you might as well eat it. I did.