Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Morel Hunting - First Day Out

The reward of our efforts.

I have a new morel hunting buddy this year.  This was Ava's first trip out here since the first time she tagged along at 7 months in-utero.  (Yes, I am that driven to hunt these elusive mushrooms!)

For an almost-4-year-old, she did great.  Really, she is inexhaustible anyway.  We found plenty of adventure and she kept herself entertained for a two-and-a-half hour hike in the woods.  We didn't travel fast.  We took our time and took everything in.

Ava stoops to check out some tadpoles.

I caved in and brought Boogie with us because she whimpered so pathetically as we loaded up the car.  On such a pristine spring day, I found it really difficult to deny her a good walk.  It was a little too hard to manage the dog AND Ava and they kept tripping me and over each other, so the dog will have to stay home next time.  It's really hard to keep your eyes peeled for mushrooms when the dog is dragging you down a hill!

"Boogie" (aka. Sierra)

There is one spot my father-in-law, Chuck, had hunted for years that used to turn up bags full of black morels for us.  We've not found anything there the past three years, almost as if it were dried up in honor of his passing.

I have to check it though, every year, just to be sure.  Shortly after we set out on the trail, I found one small black morel (Morchella elata) right in the middle of the path, an usual spot to find one and not where we had found them before.  Surely this was a sign, I thought!

Perhaps these sneaky mushrooms decided to humor me a bit and allow a few to be found by Chuck's granddaughter.

They're sneaky!  Can you spot the mushroom?

We only turned up a total of twelve mushrooms.  All but the first one I found were half-frees (Morchella semilibera).  Ava single-handedly found and picked her first morel mushroom on her Pappy Chuck's favorite spot.  He would have liked that.

I wasn't surprised that she has the 'eye'.  This kid doesn't miss a beat.  Along with her first mushroom, she also filled her bag with every little flower in sight.  She would stop to pick them all and if she thought I was going on even a few steps ahead of her, she would holler for me to stop.  I took it as an opportunity to scour the hillsides for any signs of mushrooms.

We came back out of that trail, satisfied that we hadn't been skunked on our first trip out.  After stopping by the car for a drink of water, we took out over another trail.

Now this patch we visited was my find.  For years now it has been my go-to spot where I can count on finding a nice haul of yellow morels (Morchella esculenta).  It's a little early for the yellows yet, but sometimes I stumble across small patches of the black morels (and hey--out here anything is possible).  It's a pleasant hike and there's a really interesting abandoned home site to explore.  I knew Ava would at least find a lot of daffodils to pick, so we went anyway.

The old road turning off the trail was steeper than ever, badly washed out by this year's heavy rains.  The dog dragged me down this one as well.  At least if I break my leg, we are high enough upon the mountain that I do get cellphone reception...

A washed out dirt road.

We mostly just poked around and explored a little.  Ava got tired of the dog getting in her way and insisted we tie Boogie to a tree for a while.  That made it a lot easier on me to handle the camera.  I got a few good shots anyway.

Ava stopping for a quick drink.

Ava checks out the moss on this old, weathered foundation stone.

Two large trees trying to occupy the same space.  This proximity is unusual for trees this size.
Relics of an old homestead.

The rusty remains of an old wrought-iron bed.

The spring from which this farm family drew their water.

An ancient English Ivy vine climbs a large tree.  The base of the vine is 5 inches in diameter.

Ava checks out the foundation of a dilapidated barn.  I love these hand-cut stones.  What I wouldn't give to haul some of them home with me!

There were many daffodils to be picked and enjoyed.

A large grove of pawpaw trees just beginning to bloom.

These Donaghho jars are collectible antiques.  The bottom is busted out on this one.  I like leaving it where it lies.  Then I know no one else has been here.

All in all it was a good trip.  We found a few mushrooms, just enough to keep us coming back. 

I'll go back in a few days by myself to scout for some new patches.  There should be black morels all over the place here in a couple of days.  We've certainly had the rain for it.

I know my yellow morel patch will begin popping closer to the end of the month and I'll take Ava back out to that one.  It's easy for her to get to and I know she'll really have a good time when everywhere she looks she'll see mushrooms.

Her Pappy Chuck passed away when she was only 15 months old.  In a way, I feel like she will get to know him better, traversing the trails that he laid down many miles on himself.  He and I dug up and brought home starts from many of the perennial flowers from that old homestead.  Now Ava can explore it and pick those same magical flowers.

Ava spies some daffodils blooming.  I like to imagine the farm wife who planted these and what her life was like living upon this mountain.

A rusty fence outlines the abandoned home site.  These hills were once grassy pastures, now overgrown.

Ava certainly is enjoying the day.

On the many trips out here that I made with my father-in-law, he was always recounting stories.  He'd tell me how he had found his patches of morels, hiking this old right-of-way in the last daylight hours after he'd get home from work in the coal mines.  He'd tell me stories of similar adventures; hiking, hunting and fishing with my husband and my brother-in-law when they were young boys.

Several times he impressed upon me the importance of not running it in the ground when it comes to introducing young children to the great outdoors.  He said, "when they start to complain, turn around and go home.  If you make them miserable, they'll never want to come back.  You have to keep it fun."

I'm so glad my little buddy didn't complain after the first twenty minutes.  I'm glad I got to share this special adventure with her.

An adventurous little soul, Ava is my new mushroom hunting buddy.


  1. Amanda, this is beautiful...I love it. Reminds me of my own stories, and of some old homesteads I knew down around my old "stompin grounds" through-out my childhood. Well written and a very enjoyable read, keep it up!


  2. Looks like a lovely day was had by all. Great photos. Ava looked right at home huntin' 'srooms.

  3. I am happy that I found your post it put smile on my face. Ava, you are really cute and did great. I truly appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing.