One of the things I live for is weekends when I can throw the fishing poles in the Blazer, load up my dog, and leave the city and work behind for a weekend to visit my family down south. As it turned out this last weekend, I wouldn’t need the fishing poles, but we did manage to get out into the woods and find some morel mushrooms.
Arriving at my mom’s – an hour and a half south of my home in Lawrence, Kansas – Saturday around noon, I knew the forecast called for rain. Also, it had been raining for a few days there, so I knew getting back into pastures where the ponds are was out of the question. Sitting on the couch watching baseball, someone suggested morel mushroom hunting.
Mom and I had talked in the days leading up to my visit about how it was morel season, so I think it was in the back of our minds all along.
As I’ve mentioned previously in blog posts, my mom – and all the people I know who hunt morels, really – is very protective of her spots. They’re hard to come by, so when you find a good one that produces every year, you’d like it to be a well-kept secret, like a favorite restaurant that has a certain pie on a certain day and you don’t want to tell your friends for fear they’ll start showing up and wiping out the supply.
Driving into her first spot, one of her honey-holes, the main thing she was worried about was leaving tracks in a very soft field. After driving back about a half-mile or so along a hedgerow, she said simply, “Okay, anytime,” to my brother, Andy, and he stopped and killed the engine.
Seemingly five second later, she spotted a big brownish-orange morel from her passenger seat. We would later regret that this initial excitement led us to plunge into the forest without applying insect repellent.
We collected about 20 morel mushrooms from that first hole and that – while it was all we would find the rest of the day Saturday and the short time we spent hunting Sunday – was enough to fill two skillets.
The highlights, at least for me, were twofold: listening to the rushed tone and giggles in my mom’s voice as she told stories of hunting morels with her late boyfriend, and listening to her theories and experiences with finding where the almighty morel grows. After all, she’s been hunting morels since before I was born.
As an aside, our perseverance to one spot about 15 miles from Mom’s house led me to a chance encounter with a badger, an animal I’d never seen in person.
By the end of the day, as dusk was fast approaching, Andy’s weary back led him to stay at Mom’s while we – Gwendolyn Marie, mom and I – checked what would be a fruitless spot that my mom had had good luck at in years past.
As it got to where you could barely see, the women remained seated in the front of the truck while I bird-dogged (rode along and got out when the women, my mom mainly, saw a spot that they thought looked good).
I was approaching one such spot when I saw a hole in the ground roughly the size of a basketball. Seeing a creature appear with white on the face, I immediately called out, “Skunk!” but then froze.
I was processing Mom’s warning, something about “you’re going to freeze riding in the back of the truck on the way home,” when I saw the little critter stick his head out, and I realized it was no skunk.
Calling to Gwen for a camera, I tried to see if there was any danger or any warning of attack. I took a small step toward the hole, and the head would disappear only to reappear a few seconds later.
Gwen came with the camera, slowly and quietly making her way up the bank to where I was. At this point it did cross my mind that what we were doing was dangerous – we were about 5 to 8 yards from the den – and since I had involved Gwen, running was now out of the picture, and I’d have to probably boot this thing if it came charging.
My guess is that it was neither a protective sow with cubs nor an ill-tempered boar, because it just hung its head out of the den and watched while Gwen snapped this picture, which I’m thankful to have. It confirms something that I did not know previously; Kansas is, indeed, badger country.
According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, the Great Plains are primarily where badgers are found in North America. They reside north through the central western Canadian provinces, throughout the western United States, and south throughout the mountainous areas of Mexico. But their range has expanded east since the turn of the 20th century to as far as Ontario, Canada.