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Five cold nights in May and it's beginning to look like maybe, just maybe, the trail is safe to travel once more.
Gone are the zigzagging walkers who distractedly crossed the trail from one side to the other like closing time drunkards. Absent are the slow-motion bicyclists who balanced precariously along the chamfered edge of the pavement at two miles-per-hour with their eyes cast intently into the duff. Even the berm hikers who just a few short days ago were apt to pop out from the trees at any given second with a walking stick in one hand and a grocery store poly bag in the other seem to be gone for the season. The springtime has retreated from the mid-Ohio woods and with it so have the morel mushrooms.
I don't begrudge the mushroom hunters. If anything, I'm envious. I spent my childhood wishing to become one of the honored legion, but my skills were so poor, my instinct so lacking and my patience so scant that the dream remained only that. This despite the advantage of running the woods with a mother and grandmother who could probably spot a mushroom growing on Mars.
I distinctly remember as a very young boy watching my very old Grandma Bishop flutter across the wooded landscape like a head-scarfed butterfly in pursuit of the magical morel. For years I followed her and Mom off the beaten path in hopes of actually finding one myself, but the odds were never in my favor. I was small and slow, and prone to drip into a fit of allergic slop once in the thick of budding trees and wildflowers. I usually ended up on my knees, turning over rocks and logs in hopes of finding a salamander -- a practice that invariably rewarded my efforts with poison ivy or some other such malady of the delicate. Meanwhile, Mom and Grandma would fill gallon-sized grocery bags with the makings of a delightful appetizer.
To this day I remain mystified at the way in which I could literally stand in the middle of a patch of the fabled fungi, seeing nothing but decaying leaves and moss-covered logs, only to have Grandma walk up and snatch a sponge from right underneath my feet. My mother frequently performed the same magic, and my aunts and uncles were gifted in a similar fashion. To this day, the youngest of them floats through the spring woods gathering mushrooms as easily as one might gather dandelions in a meadow. As for me, having long ago determined that I have been denied the genetic makings of a true hunter-gatherer, I've resigned myself to the fact the only place I'm likely to find a mushroom is the inside of a pizza box!