I traveled two hours – 45 minutes driving and an hour and fifteen minutes walking – to see this.
At a distance, I thought it was bear poop.
There was a lot of it.
But the color was off. Too much red.
Upon kneeling down to take several pictures, it was pretty clear it was some kind of fungus.
When I returned home, I discovered it was one of many species of fungus that are called “false morels.” I’m still not quite sure of that identification, because I did not spend enough time with it to see a stem. Which false morels have. I also don’t have another four hours to go out and back and check.
True morel mushrooms are apparently quite tasty. I saw one near Heritage Hill, and they are elegant, symmetrically shaped, yet with a randomly patterned texture: a lovely aesthetic paradox. They actually look like something I could eat.
Though some kinds of false morels look similar to this, the ones I traveled two hours to see at the Navarino Wildlife Area obviously bear only a slight similarity. Still people actually do eat false morels, despite the fact that they must be boiled and rinsed many times before the poison in them can be eliminated. Finns and other Scandinavians apparently go to those lengths to eat false morels, though one article I read indicates the toxic chemical in them, monomethyl hydrazine, builds up in your body until it reaches a level of toxicity that can cause illness and death. Maybe shorter growing seasons in northern climes tempt people to eat anything they can get their hands on. Food insecurity is a perennial problem for humans, the reason for those infamous, virus-generating, wet-markets in China. The reason also for the 65 billion dollar a year SNAP program in the US. Why aren’t people just paid a living wage and provided provisions for health care and retirement, so working people and people who need walkers wouldn’t need SNAP and wouldn’t have to come to food pantries to make ends meet?
The third kind of flower to bloom this year out at Navarino is the violet. Everywhere along and even on the trails, bunches of violets, purple and white, are growing. Such tiny, delicate flowers: the Divine’s detailed handiwork is so small it can be truly appreciated perhaps only by ants. Violet flowers and leaves are also edible, unless they’re growing in a lawn whose owner is engaged in an apocalyptic battle against them. They might be seasoned then with a little too much methyl phenoxy ester for your digestive pleasure.
I saw some large painted turtles on a log in a flowage at the foot of a ridge. Turtle soup? Not for me. A few strawberry flowers had bloomed. But they won’t be berries for a couple weeks.
Five hours later at almost 6:00 p.m., I’m getting hungry. I’m on the last leg of my walk. Early this year I had taken some trails not far from the McDonald Road parking lot that I had not traveled before that lead down into an area where trees where being slaughtered. The trail through the area had been pretty easy to find and follow: it headed south, then west, and ended at a massive pile of logs. Though the logs were gone Friday, the trail was still there: a short cut back to my car, welcomed because it had begun to rain.
The rain clouds increased the darkness, plunging the woods into dusk, so that on this walk, like on the one two weeks ago, the trail grew harder and harder to find, buried as it was beneath the obliterated forest, its limbs strewn and stacked everywhere among stumps and bramble. It was horrible to behold. When the trail came to a dead end, I remembered that, yes, the trail that returned to the parking lot did have a dead-end fork. But it had been the clearer path of the two. Which offered me false hope. Which I took.
I scared up a grand turkey, who took to the skies with the greatest of effort, flying low and landing where there were actually still trees. I had, I was thinking, encountered in the course of the day, a complete thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey with a side of savory mushrooms in gravy and a fresh salad of violet and dandelion leaves, tender and spring green, accented with purple and white flowers. In the rain, the chorus frogs in the pools in the midst of the woods began singing, faster and faster, as if they were keeping up with the quickening rate of the falling rain. They were happy, apparently, that I was leaving that wild thanksgiving meal to keep on living in peace in the ravaged forest.