April 28, 2022
A friend’s text lit up like a fly on a trout stream, wondering if I wanted to go morel hunting and hiking for a bit. I hit the bait hard and Wes Homoya brought me back. He advised me to dress appropriately and bring water and snacks, so I ‘equipped’. I pulled out the duffel bag I’d won at a Bird-A-Thon gathering at the Eagle Creek Bird Center and stuffed two face masks, a small towel, and my packet of sanitizer into it. I filled a water bottle and checked my camera’s battery level. I scanned my range of caps and rejected the Ash & Elm cap in favor of one with the words “Bird Nerd”. After all, I was going to look for a mushroom with an ornithologist. I came out of my basement cave to grab my coat and wait with my gear for my transport. Wes showed up in his box-sized Smart car and I got into the passenger seat. We exchanged greetings and jokes about vaccination statuses – the two triplets – and Wes steered me on my adventure.
I’ve written about Wes before, first in “Bird Man of Indianapolis” (September 2016) and again in “The Lorax Of Indiana” (February 2021). He nurtured my budding interest in birding and took me on little birding excursions. This impromptu foray was going to be a new experience for me, but Wes and I discussed life in general, not mushrooms. On the highway to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest, large birds were flying; the voice of the person from Google maps guided us. When the driving wasn’t too treacherous, Wes was able to peek at the birds and identify them for me.
At the entrance to the state forest, Wes parked and we unrolled. He gathered up his gear, including his binoculars, and quickly stepped over a heavy chain that lay idle at the start of the trail we were to take; my arthritic knee only complained slightly as I followed it across the divide. After viewing a photo of our prey and a few moments of bird chirping distraction, Wes gave me advice and pointed me into the woods. We split up and hunted, each hoping to be the first to find the mushroom.
As I slowly moved through the fallen leaves and carefully brushed away the clinging branches, Wes wandered further and soon interrupted my rustle with a call, “CJ!” I climbed a slight climb towards him; he stood in front of a large tulip tree and stared at the base of it. Wes challenged me to find the morel: “Can you see it?” I scanned the base of the tree carefully until I found it: my first wild morel. Once out of the schneid, we ventured deeper into the woods, looking for more. Wes quickly disappeared from sight, but I wandered around, chasing morels until I heard him scream again. We joined and soon, packed into his car for the ride home.
Morel hunting, I decided, is about the calls of songbirds and warblers, the sight of ducks on ponds, great blue herons crossing the skies, hawks with prey in their talons, and the loud voice of the lesser wren of Caroline, the little blue-grey gnatcatcher, and the company of a friend, who participated in the discovery of exactly one morel mushroom.