C.W. Gusewell


Hunting morels can get you ticked

In a recent column I promised a report on the mushroom harvest.

I’d gotten some spotty information by phone from friends north of the city and others in the Ozark neighborhood of our farm.

But no respectable journalist likes to trade in rumors.

So on the first true spring-like day, after that early April run of frigid mornings and relentless showers, my wife and I drove the 208-mile round trip to our farm in the Osage River hills, eager to harvest the annual crop of morels in the birch grove we call our honey hole.

The weather couldn’t have been sweeter. The midday temperature was in the mid-70s.

Streams far out of their banks spread over sodden lowlands.

But a welcome sun bathed a woodland countryside in which the oaks and hickories had not yet leafed, and the usual spring ornaments of redbuds and dogwoods had only just begun a late bloom.

Our anticipation was keen.

Two springs ago, we found 700-some mushrooms in that place.

Last year the harvest was truly obscene – 1,752 in a single day – in an area hardly larger than a tennis court.

So armed with a good number of collecting sacks – one of them a paperboy’s bag from a friend’s newspaper in Indiana, the Rochester Sentinel – we set out for the expected bonanza.

Hunting morel mushrooms is a famously unpredictable enterprise. Much depends on the cadence of the season. Surely other factors influence the harvest, some with which we’re unacquainted.

But now the promised report.

My wife and I found, between us, somewhere in the range of 15 to 25.

Not morels.


Mushrooms may have good years and lean. But with ticks there’s always a bumper crop. The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis , is a nasty little creature, famous for its capacity to transmit Lyme disease. And Lyme is an awful affliction.

Fortunately, there’s a dependable recourse: the antibiotic doxycycline. A 2-week course of the drug, if begun immediately after removal of an embedded tick, can prevent infection.

That’s the good news. The bad news, as I recently discovered, is that there’s a national shortage of doxycycline, the cause of which is unclear.

The pharmaceutical companies claim it’s because of the lack of a critical ingredient. Druggists tell a different story. They say doxycycline was for years so cheap – about $15 for a 30-capsule supply – and generated so little profit that the makers all but discontinued it.

When I went to pick up a prescription this spring, the price was $141. I left it at the counter.

The best policy, of course, is to inspect for ticks immediately after returning from an outing, and pick them off before they can embed.

Unfortunately, the Ixodes scapularis is a sly rogue, with a tendency to attach in regions of the anatomy where it can be impossible to locate the wretched thing unaided.

Which means that a springtime day in the Ozark woods, hunting mushrooms or for any other reason, is best shared with someone you know well. Really, really well.