Northern Michigan is waking up from a long winter, almost but not quite ready for Memorial Day and the influx of metro-Detroiters who will make their way every Friday evening “up north,” to cabins and cottages and campgrounds on the many lakes and rivers found there. I drove up on Friday to visit my folks and while none of the ice cream parlors, seasonal restaurants, canoe rentals and resorts were open yet, the signs of their coming out party were everywhere…people scrubbing siding, work vans parked in the streets -the air was electric with the energy that comes from an area that supports itself through tourism. It’s a pleasure to drive north in the off-season, with lake Huron always to my right, clinging to the curves of the peninsula. This trip, it looked almost ocean like in its vastness, the kind of azure blue you see in pictures of tropical island. The sky was much darker and the aspen and ash trees that populate this stretch of road glinted against the late spring sun.
As someone who grew up “up north”, I do not find it the least bit pleasant to sit in bumper to bumper traffic every Friday evening and Sunday afternoon in exchange for 24 hours recreating, and so S. and I avoid the trip during the summer unless we can take at least one day off to avoid traffic, which we do quite often. I decided to take a half day on Friday and visit my mother for mother’s day. We didn’t have a particular agenda…sometimes we walk downtown and look in the shops and then lunch – other times we see a movie or go hiking. But it had rained, and it is May, and what with the combination of rain and May and the incredibly dedication most northern Michiganders have to seasons, there was nothing to do but spend Saturday hunting for morel mushrooms.
I’m really not sure how wide-spread morel mushrooms grow. I do know that morel mushroom hunting (shrooming) has a loyal and fierce group of followers and my dad ranks among the most ardent. Despite the fact I was actually home for mother’s day when my dad looked at us over his cocktail Friday night and asked if we were “up” for a little “shrooming” Saturday, my mom and I both said yes. I mean, after all. It had just rained. It’s May.
Late Saturday morning we piled into my dad’s truck, my dad and I in the front seat and my mom and Ty, their aging Brittany Spaniel who needs to be boosted into and onto everything now (according to my parents NOT because he’s old as dirt but because he’s more sensitive in his older age and is scared of hurting them) and drove west. I won’t tell you exactly where we drove because my dad is already pissed off beyond recognition at the bloggers who’ve given away the location of his favorite grouse and woodcock cover and I do NOT want to be responsible for giving away his mushroom spots, but we drove into the woods on the kind of northern Michigan day that really makes you get Hemingway’s short story “The Last Good Country.”
Years have passes since I last looked for morels and that was back when my dad was certain the best batches could be found underneath pine trees, and error of his ways that forced him and my mom to go mushroom free for three years. I wasn’t quite sure what they looked like but at our very first spot we found several and my dad showed me how morels are hollow with a sealed skirt.
Morels poke up from the ground in an almost startingly way, but they are easily camouflaged by old leaves and fallen trees and they require the kind of vision that can also detect hidden images in paintings made out of dots. I do not have this kind of vision but both my parents do and so they had some luck.
The creative nonfiction writer in me is dying to insert some dialogue here, but we barely talked all day. Well, my mom and I barely talked. My dad conducted a one-man monologue which went something like this:
Okay, so, this spot is my SECRET spot, my morel mushroom spot nobody else…goddamnit. There are people here. How did they find out about this spot?It’s a secret. Frickin’ internet. Anyway, let’s look. They might be down-state bohunks (no offense, Courtney) who don’t know what to look for. You know what really pisses me off? The latest bill to allow off road vehicles permission to tear up county roads by riding everywhere they damn well want to. I used to like representative (name withheld to protect said representative, who I went to high school with) but I’ll tell you what, he deserves a piece of my mind. It’s just disgusting, what ATV’s do to our land, the way they tear the land and pollute the air…you know what? I’ve just decided I’m going to be a one-issue voter this next election and it’s going to be the environment. Nothing else matters to me, not even Iraq any more. It did matter but I’m over it. Courtney, have you ever realized – oh, hey, there’s a mushroom. Oooh, where there is one there will be three! Mary! Look over here! – have you ever realized that you and S. don’t live in a sustainable manner? I mean, if the world runs out of gas, your mom and I will be fine and your brother and his fiance will be fine but you and S. will be fucked…ah, another mushroom. You know how I like to cook these? With butter and salt, that’s it.
I love my dad, but sometimes he takes over the conversation in such a way as it’s impossible to get a word in. So my mom and I followed him up hills and over ridges, beneath pine trees (just in case) and a long roads, and all the while we passed car after car of shroomers, who would occasionally pull over and ask if we’d found anything. To which we said no, absolutely nothing, even though we had, because, according to my dad, the last thing you need is more people in your space, and he considers Michigan state land his space.
It was a gorgeous day, though – the sky the kind of blue you can’t even believe exists. And I don’t mind my dad’s riffs, could, in fact, listen to them all day long but I felt distinctly sorry for my mom because it was, after all, mother’s day weekend and while she is pretty darn solid in the woods she much prefers pedicures and shopping to walking in the woods.
We didn’t have too much luck finding mushrooms during the day but I think I know why so many people hunt for them even when nary a one can be found; walking in the woods with a quiet sense of purpose opens up your brain in a lovely way. The terrain you walk isn’t taxing and morels take a keen eye to find, and the combination is very sedative. I found myself day-dreaming alot, and when I confided this to my mother she said she was, too. “I was trying to figure out what we’d do if we came across a dead body,” she said. “Who would stay with it? Who would go for help?” I didn’t have an answer for her, as I had been reviewing the list of my favorite kisses before getting married and, as usual when filing through the memories, found myself satisfied with the result that I had some spectacular kisses in my life, and that’s always a nice thing to know.
At the end of the day, we found 12 mushrooms. We had spent six and a half hours outside, walked what felt like several miles, and in general mostly gotten along which trust me, does not always happen with my parents and me and in fact, didn’t occur Sunday, but that’s neither here nor there nor up the lamp post, for today’s post.
I sometimes forget I used to know things, like where blackberry patches could be found and which beach has the best waves on a windy day and what coyote scat looks like, and so it’s nice to spend a day with my parents, who have lived in such a way as to never know anyting else Sometimes it’s nice to know it’s May, and it rained, and those two together mean something.