C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Morels reflect a hesitant spring

Spring has come haltingly and late this year to the Ozark forest.

The undergrowth, often riotous by middle April, has hardly begun to leaf. And the seasonal woodland chorus of peeping tree frogs, whistling quail pairs and gobbling turkeys has only in recent days been heard.

My gang of hunters – assembled from points as distant as Florida, Indiana and Seattle – has filled the cabin with fellowship, and with accounts, some even true, of outwitting the sly birds.

And there’s been good news about the farm lake, which we feared had been emptied of decent bass by an influx of predatory otters.

A friend’s son, fishing from the dam, watched a huge shadow follow his lure almost to the bank. So he changed baits and cast out again. Immediately the monster struck – a largemouth that he reckoned weighed nearly 10 pounds.

He released it to keep growing. And on the next cast caught another one, only slightly smaller.

So the fish and the turkeys are accounted for. The next issue is the mushrooms.

The morels generally present themselves in mid-April after a good, soaking rain, followed by a night in the 60s or warmer. At least that is the normal cadence of the season.

But can anything really be normal after this disordered year we’ve had?

A past spring and summer with hardly a hint of moisture – crops ruined, trees dying and the earth opening in fissures you could lose a shoe in.

A winter of mostly dry cold, followed by two March snows in quick succession, then another one in April.

Mushrooms are only the bloom of the organism, so to speak. The much greater part of the plant, the mycelium, is underground. Will it have survived what climatologists rank as the worst Midwestern drought in 56 years?

And if so, what amount of rain will be necessary to revive it and let it flower again?

We should know in the days immediately ahead, if we don’t already. On the chance the morels present themselves in the quantity they have the last three years, I’ll be sure to report it in this space.

Mushroom hunters tend to be a secretive crowd, jealous of their favorite spots.

But to show I’m a good sport, if you’re interested in the location of the place we call our “honey hole,” I’ll be decent enough to tell you.

It’s in Missouri.