Those Mysterious Mushrooms and a Memorable Mutt

I went mushroom hunting the other day. I didn’t find any, but that doesn’t mean much. Despite a lifelong love of these edible fungi and an ongoing dedication to all things outdoors, I confess to being a dismal failure as a mushroom hunter.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about where they grow and how to find them, but about the only consistent scenario I can add to all that is that mushrooms seem to grow best where I’ve already walked.

This has been an embarrassment that began when I was just a lad, growing up in Breese, Ill. My mother always seemed to find them with ease; so did the rest of my family. Knowing that mushrooms usually pop up in an area as soon as I walk through it, they’d follow me around the woods shouting all those exclamations of joy with each new find. My brother Ted derived particular delight in pointing out that I must have some kind of magical mushroom fertilizer on my shoes, followed by a loud, annoying laugh. I just had an odd family with a strange sense of humor, and Ted, who was only 11 months younger than me, was the weirdest one of the bunch.

But the most bizarre Kruger was a gangly Red bone-and-something-or-other hound that we didn’t pay a dime for, and was worth a lot less. He was a depraved-looking mutt with table manners that were disgusting, even to other dogs. We called him “Clippers,” maybe because of the comical way his hind legs often clipped each other which caused him to stumble.

Clippers would eat anything—anything—including everything I happened to be shooting at on hunting trips. Though I never saw him spend any time with the dog, I always suspected that my brother Ted secretly trained the dog to frustrate me this way.

The dumb dog did have one redeeming quality. However, he could find mushrooms better than any of those prized pigs Italians and Englishmen use to find truffles.

And this canine loved them. He’d go through the woods like a drunken beagle on amphetamines chasing down phantom rabbits. All of a sudden, Clippers would stumble to a screeching halt and the edacious mutt would start pawing and chomping. Then, mushrooms would fly everywhere.

Someone would pull him off as quickly as possible, and everyone picked the unharmed mushrooms while one of us with a stick (usually me) kept the ravenous, circling mongrel at bay.

One eventful summer day, however, Clippers started acting more strangely than usual and simply ran over the edge of a cliff. We figured he got hold of the wrong mushrooms and thought he could fly.

It’s interesting how time changes one’s perception of things. I never thought much of this dog, or my brother back then, but Ted has become a special fishing friend, and every spring I seem to miss old Clippers and his special talent.

Humans can safely consume many kinds of wild mushrooms, and I believe I have tasted them all. But the nutty, meaty taste of a morel cannot be beat. I think they are the finest delicacy in the outdoors. Plus, they are the easiest to identify, or, at least, less likely to mistake for anything hazardous.

Morels actually grow in a wide variety of places and even have been known to sprout up in people’s basements, so they should be easy to find. It’s not that I never find them—it’s just that I never find enough of them to make me feel proficient at it. I’ve come to think that anyone who ever finds one thinks they are some kind of expert who can tell us exactly were to look. Still, though, mushrooms remain a mystery.

The critical element to finding them seems to be timing. They spout up quickly and don’t last long. About the only mushroom tip I’ve found logically applicable over these many years is that they seem to grow best where I’ve already walked.

I went by myself the other day to search. And my wife Betty has become pretty good at finding them too. But over time she has developed the same malicious sense of humor as my brother.

Mushroom hunting shouldn’t be a competitive sport.