Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Edge Of The Muck

It's morel mushroom season. I'm a bit of a fanatic about hunting the elusive morel. My friends know I'm pretty much unavailable during the season of the “shrooms” unless they want to hike with me in the woods from sunup to sundown.

It's early in the season and the weather has been cold. So last Saturday I chose a stand of woods that produces morels earlier than most. I had some success. But the ground was very, very dry. So I moved on to a place where the hardwoods grow right down to a cedar swamp. I was hoping that the close proximity to the swamp would mean the ground was a little moister.

That's where I hit the “mother lode.” Morels everywhere! And the closer I got to where the hardwoods met the swamp, the better the picking. At one point, as I was bending to pick a morel, I looked up and could see something large moving around in the swamp. Living up to my reputation as a wandering woman, I set my morel bag down, planted my morel stick in the ground, and crept into the swamp.

It was a beautiful cedar swamp, with various shades of green everywhere. Pale green plant shoots were just starting to appear amid the muck. Both the live and down cedar were covered with a deep green moss. The trees were a rich cedar green with pale green tips of new growth on the end of each branch. There was a subtle trickle of water that could easily be heard in the otherwise noiseless swamp. I was struck by the beauty of the sunshine filtering through the cedar trees, bouncing off the water, and creating a shimmering effect on the underside of the cedar boughs.  The swamp was dense and dark and light and colorful at the same time. The smell was both rich and pungent and sweet and airy. I’d never before noticed the contradiction within a swamp.

A few feet further into the swamp, I could see a black bear. Bears are not rare in Northern Michigan, but sightings are. Mostly I feel rewarded if I see signs of a bear or the occasional glimpse of the back end of one moving away from me. I wanted to get a little closer. Fortunately a few moss-covered logs allowed me to crawl quietly into the root system of a down cedar tree with a minimum amount of muck. Like all the others, this tree was covered with moss. It made a delightful seat and I settled in.

I watched this bear for no more than 5 minutes when I heard a sound off to my left. A second bear was coming into the area. Within another 5 minutes, I heard a sound to my right and bear number three was approaching. This was the point where I stopped patting myself on the back for my great find and opportunity and started wondering just what I’d gotten myself into. I was not in a good position to leave. I was at that point surrounded by bears on three sides. And my departure would not have been swift given my awkward perch.

So I surrendered to enjoying my predicament. I watched these bears turn over logs and dig in the muck for whatever had attracted them to this spot. One climbed a tree for what seem to me to be purely sport, up and back down swiftly. There were a couple of small confrontations over whatever it was they were feasting on. Two or three times they lifted their noses to the air and rocked from one front paw to the other. I was sure I’d been discovered. But each time they settled down and went back to their banquet.

It was an hour and a half before the trio had wandered to one side of me and my exit was open. I tried to stand up, only to find my legs would not work. And that's when I apparently got too noisy and the show was over. In a matter of seconds all three had disappeared into the deepening swamp. I'm always amazed at how quickly wildlife can go from seen to invisible with only a step or two.

Now good advice might be that when you find yourself on the edge of the muck, don't go further in. But sometimes being stuck in the muck is a rewarding experience. After my mushroom bonanza, I was in just the right mood to really see the beauty in the mucky mess in front of me and the bear sighting as an opportunity. Doesn't it always seem to happen that way? Once we start riding high on one delightful experience the next experience is delivered. And our only role is to notice and surf from one attraction to the next.

"Come to the edge," He said. They said, "We are afraid." "Come to the edge," He said. They came. He pushed them... and they flew. ~Guillaume Apollinaire