Hugh Erle Smith
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Favorite Forays

Trip to Michigan, last week in May, 2009

intro | mushrooms | creatures et al

For the last week in May, Sandi and I went to Michigan to go morel hunting. Theoretically, morel season progresses northward, and when it does, morels begin to appear in the Upper Peninsula (better known as the U P, where Uppers live).

We stayed in a small town called Curtis on a lake called Manistique.

It appears the main commerce of this area is snowmobiling and cross country skiing. There was no snow.

As remote as the U P is, everything you could want or need is in the town. Mosquito nets immediately come to mind.

For entertainment, there's fishing, an ice cream parlor and a bar. For many of the residents, there's the bar or, there's Alcoholics Anonymous.

The bar was pretty lively, I'm sure the other organized activity was the same.

And there's the woods. Maybe a better term would be Tree Farm(s).

Most of the Upper Peninsula appears to have been cut down many times.

The trees are relatively small in comparison to what I am used to seeing. When the trees get to any size at all, they are chopped down.

I am not certain what they are used for, but we did see and smell one paper mill. Where Pine Tree(s) have been planted, you can see down the rows, like an orchard, for a very long way. Trees are cut down and barked in one fell swoop, in 8 foot lengths, on the spot, with an all-in-one machine called a Feller-Buncher. You know how our log trucks in California are filled with long logs? Well, their trucks are filled with short logs stacked the other way. Many home(s) have their own small collection of log(s) in their yard(s). Some are sitting there rotting. 

Maybe they're trying to grow Turkey Tails. Maybe they're trying to grow Oysters. Or conchs. But it could be a status thing to own a pile of log(s).

A lot of small town(s) are here in the U P because the railroad runs or used to run through them. And everyone needs to claim the fame somehow.
Newberry is the Moose capital of Michigan.

But did we see any Moose (Meeses)?

Yes, we saw the representations on the map of exactly where they were.

And do you think there were a lot of Mooses is Michigan?

No, there are six, listed in pairs on the map.

Even on the map, they're pretty hard to see through the clouds of Mosquitoes. Except where the black flies keep the mosquitoes away.

On the Origin of Species' Names: (Don't correct me if I'm wrong)

  1. Many Fungus of the same specie are called Funguses.

  2. But many different ones are called Fungi.

  3. Many Cephalopods of the Genus of one type of Octopus are called Octopuses. However, many of different species are called Octopi.

  4. Many deer of one specie are called Deer. So more than one Deer of more than one specie are called Deers. (Except in the upper Mid West, that is, where almost nothing has a plural form). (Hence the (s) in my writing(s).).

  5. Therefore, many of one type of Moose would be called Moose. But more than one species of Moose would be called Mooses, or Meeses, or is it Mice? How many species of Mice are there?

I could go on.

Isn't English wonderful?

There are roads everywhere in the U P.  Most of them are dirt, which is difficult for some to get used to, but they are as busy as the paved roads (which are not) and are fairly well maintained. A lot of the wood(s) are gridded off by these road(s).

The first full day in the U P we went out to the wood(s).

Even though they have been chopped down many time(s), everything is green and it's very beautiful.

We hunted for several hour(s). Several Gyromitra infula and Gyromitra esculenta were found, and even a Gyromitra montana.

And one black morel. That was a lot of hunting for that one keeper.

These people seem to think there is only one mushroom you can eat, except for Dog Peckers (Morchella semilibera), of course. And we're talkin' all year round. I showed some other unsuccessful mushroom hunters a batch of Oysters and they were afraid I would get poisoned.

They were older experienced hunters.

When we finally decided that this was not the right place for a hunt, we went to Lake Michigan, not too far away. I had never seen a lake of this caliber so I couldn't wait to see what surprises were there.

And there were surprises.

Yes, it's a big lake, with waves and seashells (lakeshells), sand dunes and forest being buried by sand dunes...everything.

And very remote on this north shore.

It's hard to imagine from my California perspective that a body of water so large could be fresh water. Lake Tahoe? That's not big. San Francisco Bay? That's not big. The Pacific Ocean? Nah...

Anyway, we headed back to the car. When we got there, I discovered that I had stepped on a very nice gray morel! In the sand! Then we found six others! Talk about exciting! We found 8 morels that first day!

Did I mention, always look around the car?

The next three days we found no morels. We drove north of Newberry to a gigantic burn from 2 years ago. Locals said it produced tons.

Everywhere we asked, people had recommendations for where to go and stories of car loads of morels. Even accounts from just a few days ago of people that had done well. When we asked where to go, we were even given directions. "Go north" or "Out there", they would say.

Hours and hours and hours in the woods produced only a few Gyromitra esculenta, Pluteus cervinus and some LBMs. Surprisingly little.

Three days! Makes you wonder if you've got your mushroom eyes on!

Arriving at the burn, we could see it was in fact, gigantic, thousands and thousands of acres of burned a swamp. How does a forest in a swamp burn? There were many roads running through it. Private roads. We finally found a public road into the burn because there isn't really anywhere to pull off the highway in a swamp. And what we discovered was, the blackness of the burned forest paled in comparison to the blackness of the clouds of Mosquitoe(s).

We didn't stay in any place long if at all (ya think?).

Mosquito nets don't necessarily work.

We drove north of there to a State Park. The main feature here was a waterfall and a cascade, the water forever stained coffee brown by the heavy amount of tannin.

Everyone needs to claim the fame somehow, huh?

A stunning waterfall!

The park was full of natural and protected forest, giant deciduous and evergreen trees, but still, there was surprisingly little fungus to be found. Coprinus, Turkey Tails...

For a protected area, they sure cut down a lot of virgin tree(s) to keep the trails safe! Maybe it was to make room for the mosquito(s).

We then drove further north, towards Lake Superior's (and Michigan's) Shipwreck Museum. This place makes you wonder if someone commissioned Gordon Lightfoot for a song.

Everyone needs to claim the fame somehow, huh?

Of course, I'm always looking down at the ground AND up in the trees for Conchs, etcetera. And there are some pretty cool Conchs in the U P!

Some are definitely unique to these higher latitude(s).

After three days of no morel success, we decided to head south to the Lower Peninsula. Clearly we were too far north at this time of year.

So south we went. We hit a rest stop on the freeway on the way to our unknown destination and found one large yellow morel. Gold!

We found another place to stay and started asking around.

Lots of fairly consistent directions were given to us and a local map.

The first day...nothing. Hours and hours...looking for mature Ash tree(s). But no giant trees, and no morels.

We now had one day left. I had Fed-Exed a dehydrator ahead of me so I could deal with all the bounty I would be bringing home from Michigan.

I was nearly out of enough time to dehydrate anything!

And we scored.

Big, beautiful mature Ash trees. A large grove with freshly logged areas all around it. And giant yellow morels.

I got down on the ground and looked from one yellow morel to the next. 

And the next. And the next!

And gray morels in the logged area. Gray morels growing at the very base of chopped down trees, tight clumps, mushrooms pushing against each other, as if fighting for a single space. Score!

Our last day!

Is this how a hunt should go?

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