Friday, April 22, 2011


Spring sure is dragging its feet this year. First asparagus finally got itself up and out of the ground fully two weeks later than in 2010, and I desperately wish the morel mushrooms would take a page from asparagus' book because they are NOwhere to be seen. At least not by me.

Every year I always start looking too early, just in case. But I've never gone this long, and on this many fruitless forays, without finding a single morel. Or, as has occasionally happened, hollow-stemmed holes in the ground from where someone else got there first. This year, I swear, I'd happily take the holes -- at least I'd know I wasn't crazy, that I hadn't somehow lost my eyes. Because the season appears here at last, all the spring cosigns to morels pushing their wrinkled snouts forth from the leaf mold are present: poplars leafing out, may apples fully unfurled, jack-in-the-pulpits open for pontification and pollenation.

My first few forays I was ok with not finding anything, because I didn't really expect to. May apples were nothing but green spikes just emerging, and the trees were bare -- and this was barely two weeks ago. But since then we've had the couple days of rainy weather followed by a really warm day pattern that morels like. In fact we've had it TWICE. And still no morels.

I go at least every other day, looking. I most often visit a place I consider my bellwether spot -- over the years it never has a lot of morels, but it has them reliably. Also I can park, hop out of the car and be standing in the midst of where the morels should be in about 3 minutes flat. I check here often, have been there at least four times -- I'm starting to lose track, seriously -- and nothing. Was there this morning, the first time I could get there after Wednesday's first seriously warm day of spring (84 degrees) and STILL nothing. Not even holes. At this point I'd welcome holes. I know I already said that. But I'm starting to get a little nuts, now.

Looking, and not finding. With no control over whether the thing I so assiduously seek will even appear, no matter how long and how hard I search. The frustration is quite serious. It's very much akin to the frustration of asymptotically approaching, yet never quite being able to reach, sexual climax -- wanting, not getting.

It's at this point I begin to doubt myself. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough? Looking in the wrong places (even though they've been right places, years past)? Maybe I've somehow lost my ability to see?

I both doubt and completely believe this last. I doubt it because I do have good eyes; at last night's Little League game I found a tiny plastic toy, not even two inches long, my four year old had lost from his pocket -- in the middle of a 2-plus acre grassy meadow that he'd been running all around for over an hour. He was quite upset but also full of touching faith that I would find it for him. The toy -- did I mention it was mainly green in color? -- could've been anywhere, but with some patient pacing and triangulation I eventually found it. These are skills I learned hunting morels.

And, while hunting and not finding, I've found all kinds of other things. Some things that look like morels:

My heart leaps each time, but only for the briefest of flashes before crashing back to the same old morel-free ground. Amazing how much heartbreak can be contained in a pinecone half buried in dead leaves.

Furthermore, I know my eyes still work because I've found other things while hunting: oyster mushrooms, nettles, two animal skulls and tons of bones. I am happiest about finding a half dozen cool old glass bottles, including an intact blue glass Ball canning jar that is at least 70 years old. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with these finds, yet they are mere consolation prizes. More consolation -- though I am not usually given to schadenfreude -- is that friends went to one of my morel spots (which I introduced them to: credit to them for asking, first) two days ago, when I could not, on super-warm Wednesday which SHOULD have been a prime day, and ALSO did not find morels. So it's not just me.

But it is me. I'm actively miserable over this. Downright grumpy. So I have a new theory: I haven't found any yet this year because I have yet to go morel hunting in the rain. It's too dry, despite the at least four days of rain we've had in the past two weeks including pounding thunderstorms complete with tornadoes and power outages.

Now all I need is some rain. And, apparently, a life.

Consolation prizes: stinging nettles, which were delicious sautéed in butter; bottles I found in the forest while not finding morels.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Opening Day

Jack started Little League baseball recently -- his first go at an organized sport. (I know, I know, I'm un-American, keeping my kid off the field of rec-league glory until the hoary old age of eight years). Jack is adapting beautifully to Life After Little League -- there's talk of making him pitcher, kid's got a natural arm on him -- but me, not so much. We're three practices into the season and we've been late to every single one. Shoot, you may as well also count us late for the one they canceled due to rain, because I'm sure we would've been the last ones there that night too...

I don't especially care if we're a few minutes late, but Jack does. So tonight I was determined to get us to the park on time, for once. We were, of course, fantastically and record-breakingly late. BUT this time, however, I have a bona-fide gold-plated excuse for our tardiness: First Asparagus.

Seriously, I was just going to stop by our favorite farm stand...pick up a couple bunches of asparagus that were waiting there for me...cook it up later, after practice was over. I swear I didn't mean to splay out those lovely green spears on a tray, roll them around in a little extra-virgin olive oil, coarse salt and pepper. They just, um, fell into that 450 degree oven all on their own.

OK, OK, I confess: I did it. I cooked that asparagus BEFORE practice, knowing that it would take half an hour when we had to leave the house in 15 minutes, 20 max, to be on time for baseball. But I did it for the best of reasons: because my two little boys begged me to. How could any mama say no to her children's pleas for vegetables?

I was astonished at their excitement over First Asparagus, at how badly they wanted to eat it. Cole loitered impatiently in the kitchen, asking every few minutes if the asparagus was done YET. And when it came out of the oven the three of us clustered around the pan, plucking up spears with gingery fingertips, burning ourselves, dropping them, doing it again and again until finally they were just barely cooled enough to cram into our eagerly awaiting mouths.

Yes, we were late for baseball. Half an hour, actually. So sue me. We also ate every last fat, luscious spear of asparagus and walked in heads held high, smiles gleaming with olive oil and satisfaction.

A note on the asparagus: last year's First Aparagus was March 30th. It's been chilly and wet this spring and this season is rolling along a solid two weeks behind last year's. I got tired of fruitless drives past the farm stand, which since we moved is no longer along any of my daily routes. So, this year I got smart: I started emailing the farmer. He promised to let me know as soon as he put asparagus out for sale. He even gave me daily asparagus status reports ("Only 4-6 inches tall today, we need a couple days of sun before they'll be ready -- maybe Thursday?").

And, bless his heart, he did email as soon as he put out his first three bunches. We got there within the hour, and bought all three. O happy day, that hath asparagus in it.