If, on a hike this spring, you see
a group of people carrying baskets, speaking into walkie talkies,
wielding knives and staring intently at the ground, have no fear.
Follow them, and if you (and they) are lucky, you might have Morel
Stroganoff for dinner.
It's mushroom season here in the Rockies, and for shroomers, this
means risking poison ivy, sunburn and twisted ankles in pursuit of
the succulent fungi.
On a dry and sunny Saturday morning after a rare week of rain, Bill
Windsor, the zen master of morels, leads about 40 members of the
Colorado Mycological Society on their first foray of the year.
He has checked the signs (cottonwood leaves blossoming, Oregon grape
in bloom, grass about 6 inches tall, poison ivy not leafed out) and
determined this is the prime weekend for hunting the shy and delicate
yellow morel that appears for about 10 days each spring.
For Windsor and others, morel hunting is a meditative hike through
the forest as it awakens from winter.
As the group of beginners and veteran seekers gathers in Waterton
Canyon southwest of Chatfield Reservoir, a bicyclist eyes the group
of basket-toting mushroom enthusiasts and ask, "Is this an Easter
Windsor leads the merry band into the canyon, as he explains what
to look for:
"Keep your mind open and your eyes open for other things," like
asparagus, oyster mushrooms, mint and poison ivy, Windsor says, narrating
the hunt like the hushed voice-over on a nature film.
He instructs them to look to the canopy for the lance-shaped leaf
of the little-leaf cottonwoods that grow along streams. Then, look
down to be sure you're not in a poison ivy patch, or stepping on
As it emerges from the damp winter earth into the bright light of
spring, the morel embodies the Chinese concept of masculine light,
heat and aridity, and feminine darkness, cool and damp. The reproductive
body of a microscopic underground web, the morel is both male and
female as it spreads its golden spores.
The crinkly beige morels range from thumb-sized up to 8 inches
and camouflage themselves among fallen leaves and brushy undergrowth.
Looking for them is like trying to see the pattern in a 3-D puzzle.
"You gotta be right on top of it. It's so easy just to walk by,"
The hopeful hunters fan out and the human chatter gives way to the
buzz of grasshoppers and the crack of twigs until a whoop breaks
the spell. Windsor blows his whistle to alert the group to the find.
"Ooh it's so pretty."
"See, they're not just a legend."
Ed Lubow speaks into his walkie-talkie in Japanese, telling his
wife about his find.
He learned his love of mushrooms from his grandmother, who hunted
them in Wisconsin when Lubow as a child. When he met his wife while
stationed in Iwo Jima, the couple found they shared a passion for
"It's like if you fishing and get a hit on the line," says the
ex-Marine and unemployed computer programmer who likes to examine
his finds under a microscope. "This is something I do for fun."
As they gather around the wrinkled brownish morel, society president
Chris Hardwick punches his location into his Global Position System
As if the munchkin mushrooms were sprouting up before our eyes,
more morels become visible in the same area.
The hunt is on in earnest now.
Once the brain-coral appearance of the morel is imprinted upon the
mind, it becomes easier to spot them — if they are there for
There's a rhythm to morel hunting. Look up, look down, take a step.
It's like the yoga Sun Salutation. Reach up to the sky, open the
mind, bend to the earth and breathe deeply.
"Morel hunting is a very calming and stops the mind chatter," says
After the hunt, Norm Birchler leans against his truck and basks
in the admiration of his fellow seekers as they examine the cache
he carries in an old fishing creel. "Wow, that's the king — Norm's
big one," says a fellow hunter.
"I found some of these crawling on my hands and knees," says Birchler,
editor of the society's newsletter, Spores Afield. He wears a T-shirt
with botanic drawings of mushrooms and silver rung embossed with
a silver-and-black Yin-Yang symbol on his thumb. Experienced hunters
like Birchler apply the Taoist ideea of seeking by not seeking as
they center their minds on an image of a morel.
Some hunters cu up their morels to examine them under a microscope.
Others, like Windsor, cut them up with a clove of garlic for the
Once the morel hits Windsor's basket, "from there it's just a matter
of time before it gets into my throat."
He apples the same mindfulness he uses on the hunt to the cooking.
"Morels are an amazing taste treat and should be prepared and served
in the same mind set as used to find them during a foray. That mind
set is one of concentration, purpose, appreciation and fun," he says.
Use the best ingredients that you can obtain, Windsor advises. "Be
mindful in your preparation and appreciative of the ingredients that
will not only nourish your body, but are about to provide you with
a fantastic flavor experience. Finally, be mindful and appreciative
of those who are serving. Like morels, friends and family are difficult
to find and should be savored.