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Posts Tagged ‘mushrooms’

The drive was easy: light traffic, no slow motor homes or travel trailers, not even a semi rig chugging up the slow lanes of High 26 over Mt. Hood, and on over the Cascades toward Madras and Maupin, from forests that are more fir and cedar to the drier cross-over forests of Doug fir and Yellow pine. The underbrush is thick in both forests, but different in plant content.The segue from fir and cedar to pine and fir is subtle; from temperate forest to drier climate forest happens somewhere over the summit of Government Camp and the next summit. We are driving from the Willamette Valley to someplace near Bear Springs Ranger Station.

I can’t tell you the exact location because it is our secret morel hunting grounds. Sacred hunting grounds. We fought hard to find this place after moving to the west side of the state, away from the abundant locations of morels in the Blue Mountains and Wallowa Range. I can tell you that motocross trails zig-zag across our hunting grounds, and we often hear the roar of motors and whine of transmissions as bikers shift gears to follow their carefully manicured ruts trails through the woods. They’re polite, just noisy.

This day, there are no motorcycles, no bicycles, no other people in the area. It is just my husband and I, no dogs, and the thick forest. Winter downfalls have been heavy this past season, and the under growth has had over 25 years to come back in from the last logging operation here. The snow has recently melted, and early spring flowers are open: calypso lilies, yellow violets, those blue five-petaled flowers I never remember the name of, and trilliums blooming white or fading red with age.

The ground is dry enough the crunch and twigs snap under our feet. We don’t mind: the fresh bear sign tells us that the more noise we make, the less likely we are to make acquaintance with some furry animal just up from a winter’s snooze – or, worse, a sow with cub. Stumps have been recently torn open and ant colonies devoured. Spoor grows fine hairy mold.

The conditions are right: other mushrooms are surfacing. False morels, red fungus, button mushrooms, and even coral mushrooms are abundant. But we only find eight fresh morels. The area is flagged for thinning – perhaps if the loggers come in and thin it, the morels will come back in the disturbed ground, and pickings will be as they were in the past.

Rhododendrons, mahogany, and chinkapin push us away from familiar paths. There are no game trails to follow, but plenty of elk sign. We cross a space full of dead-fall, skeletal leaves of deciduous bushes and vine maples, when we find a chipmunk dying in the forest detritus.

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His tail is flipped up over his back, his eyes rolled up into his head. The darkling beetles are already moving in, but he takes a deep, painful, breath and exhales. His ears don’t move, he seems to have no feeling, but his lungs are still operating. Did he fall from a tree? Chipmunks are mostly ground dwellers. A disease? I photograph him, but we do not touch him. We leave him to die where he lived: free, wild, and beyond the ken of mankind.

We drive another two miles down to the campground and picnic area at Bear Springs.

The ground cover is thick, and the downfall everywhere. My legs are beginning to hurt from climbing over downed trees. The only wildlife we hear or see are birds: woodpeckers, ravens, warblers.

Elk and deer sign is everywhere, from tracks in the pine duff to pellets where they bed down at night.

I stumble across a coyote-kill. The skull is too large to be a porcupine, and we agree it must have been a beaver that was dragged up from the creek running along the eastern side of the Bear Springs meadow.

We find three more morels.

lunch is sweet: sandwiches made on a picnic table under the tall Ponderosa pines that ring the meadow. We meet a couple who just strolled through the meadow, and some old man comes out of the forest with his bags of mysterious booty. The couple drive off, but the old man acts like some creeper, just waiting by his car and pacing, staring at us. Eventually, he wanders back off into the woods, leaving his little dog barking from inside the car. The car is in shade, the windows open. We feel no need to rescue the yapping animal, confident the owner is only a few yards away and hidden in the thick forest, waiting for us to leave.

I take a photo of the meadow that makes up the rest area, one of my favorite places on earth. Then we walk over to the stream and the wooden bridge that separates the est area from the Bear Springs Ranger Station. The bridge is in serious disrepair, and all I can think about is the last time we were here, when Murphy and Harvey played in the water below the bridge.

it’s another 75 miles back home. Traffic is a little heavier, but even the travel trailers are driving at a reasonable speed. Those cars I pass remain behind me until we reach the lower speed limits through Zig Zag, Rhododendron, and Welches. It’s an easy cruise on into Sandy, but slows through the suburbs of Boring and Damascus, so I take the backroad from Carver home.

Don fries the morels in crushed cornflakes, egg batter, and butter. They are heavenly.

 

 

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Friday of last week we stopped for a stroll in the woods to search for the elusive wild morel. The wild, yummy morel.

There are so many species of morels! It is not difficult to know a morel from any other mushroom in the wild: the only other mushroom that begins to resemble a morel is the false morel.

I have heard many theories about where morels grow best. They come up the spring after a fire, they come up around last year’s burn piles in the forest (where logging crews have burned brush), they come up around pine trees and they like the north slopes. Folks who pick them carefully guard their picking sites with secrecy (but I can tell you that we saw several other cars out in the woods where we were looking so no place is truly secret if a morel hunter is out in the woods).

We did gather about a half gallon of very fresh ‘shrooms, a sign that we were spot on for the timing of our hunt and maybe a week early.

While I walked around with my eyes on the ground, I decided to snap some other photos as well (of course).

A row of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slippers) in bloom.

The delicate anenome oregana (Blue Windflower) could be seen blooming throughout the woods.

There were still a few fresh trilliums in bloom.

An exploded puff ball mushroom (I love to stomp on these and watch the black cloud of spores explode into the air). (They are not edible!)

Last year’s maple leaf becomes a work of art.

Carpenter ants were on the move.

And there was this “whatzit?”

I’ve seen some bright orange fungi and jelly-like fungi, but nothing quite like this before.

So – you tell me. What is it?? And to keep this interesting, I’m going to offer a prize to whoever figures it out. I’ll send you a copy of The Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers (for whichever region you live in).

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