Morel mushroom pickers are likely collecting their mesh bags and collecting natures data for the upcoming season of taking to the woods in search of this highly sought after fungus. For some it becomes something of an obsession. There are websites dedicated to the activity, forums and social media pages constantly being updated with where morels have been most recently found. Conversations that go something like this in road side diners and private living rooms-
“I heard they were finding grays down-south”.
“I think we’ll be finding them by this weekend. I saw some may apples about to open up yesterday”.
We are driven into the woods by sensory information such as how warm the days and nights are. How humid it is and how long it’s been since rain or freeze. Once in the woods we know the plants, we recognize what is new and how much the foliage has grown. We can “smell” the mushrooms, or at least the change in the soil beneath our feet.
As it turns out, what we are doing is providing our primal brain with a functional need for foraging. The closest replacement to that need is found not in the woods, but instead by switching the information we are receiving via…technology. Yep, that back and forth website to website, channel to channel, video after video stimulation creates the same chemical creation of dopamine as mushroom hunting. Instead of feeding our brain with the process of finding food, we are filling it with an acceptable substitute- information.
Many have forgotten that as humans we have innate knowledge and instinct. To think, the same human brains that take us to the moon and bring us streaming Independent films are still truly controlled by primal concerns such as food, safety and reproduction.
Just in case you need an equally compelling reason to take to the trees, consider the findings by the National Academy of Science that show spending time in nature actually changes the brain in a positive way. The part of the brain that creates depression, anxiety and overall “brooding” decreased its intensity after a walk in the park. People experienced a happier state of mental being both in thought and in measurable brain activity. If you’ve ever felt like the “trees are calling you to them” it is likely because they are. Those moments of feeling as if you are in your element are moments that your beautifully evolved brain is still at its best when in the same primal place as it was two hundred thousand years ago.
I see her yet
In her pale brown dress
She’s looking for something
Not taking a rest
Singing songs of peace and love
A great stern creature flies above
She falls to the ground
She makes not a sound
But holds the mushroom with pride
Then cries, Mommy, Daddy, look at me!
Below these ferns and pines
The mighty fungus I can find
A forest jewel among us all
Amongst the grasses so sharp and tall
I wrote this poem in 1994 while living in western Colorado, obviously missing my annual northern Michigan spring outing to the woods to look for morel mushrooms. These hours’ long walks through dense forest each mid May became a point of reflection of my childhood. It was a quiet peaceful time, no conversations, just me and nature (with my parents nearby). In the woods it felt as if time didn’t exist, how could it when no signs of the outside world were to be seen or heard?
Still today I find myself walking up the narrow trail along the embankment of the creek at the eastern edge of our Missouri property. I turn to the south, to that one place, that every year seems to have at least a few grey morels, I feel that feeling of being in my natural state- body, mind and spirit. Sometimes I find one, sometimes I find many, though even if I find none I always find solace for my soul.
“Every particular in Nature, a leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes in the perfection of the whole”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Audrey L. Elder Living Life Outside the Box
Photos used with permission by photographer James Elder