When you have been doing something for over 50 years, you get pretty good at. With a best year of harvesting over 800 morel mushrooms my brother Dick Bennett can easily be called a Master Mushroomer. On Thursday, April 16, Dick found his first 2019 morel just south of Highway 10. By the time you read this column morels should be popping up all around this neck of the woods.
Dick told me, “There is a lot of misinformation about the best time to find morels. Violets being in bloom, lilac leaves being as big as a squirrel’s ear, apple trees blooming are all thought to be key but none of them hold any water in my experience. It’s all about ground temperature and you can read that by keeping an eye on weed growth in the woods.”
Dick was out exploring a few times, researching as he calls it, after violets were up and blossoms were forming on apple and lilac trees. He found no weeds growing in the woods indicating the ground was just too cold to produce anything. Then we had a couple of hot days and some rain followed by a couple days with temps around 80 and, sure enough, Dick spotted a few weeds starting to pop in the woods.
“I headed south, got down below Highway 10 looking for weeds growing in the woods. I noticed hummingbirds had been back for about a week. That’s the one indicator of nature I watch for that is a proven indicator for me, that it’s time to start hunting for mushrooms,” explained brother Dick. “Sure enough, after some searching I found three with the largest one about the size of my thumb. It was early yet. I’m thinking that the morel season should be in full swing around May 23r this year around here.”
Pushing 80 years of age but in great shape, Richard, a retired 3M scientist, will walk for hours in the wilds looking for morels. He wears light-colored clothing, pant legs tucked in to keep out ticks. ”I like to get into places no one else does.” Dick loves the flavor and the thrill of the find. “The “AHA!” is like winning a big game.” If he happens to find over 100 in just one place it’s just Grace.
Dick mentioned, “I’ll thank the trees when I make a good find. If I find a spot that looks like it should hold mushrooms and doesn’t have any I’ll talk to the trees and tell them that they can do better. I like the solitude, the spring flowers, finding hundreds of trilliums in one place, our state flower blooming all over the woods. I’ve spooked hen turkeys off their hidden nests and watched young turkeys keeping low right in the nest. I listen to spring birds; hear water cascading down a little stream. It’s a side benefit of hunting morels.”
Knowing my brother like I do I know, it’s how Dick experiences the spiritual side of nature, to be part of what God created. For him and other morel hunters it’s a sense of accomplishment that is hard to explain because as he says, “It’s getting harder every year to find them year.”
Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org