Yellow morels from 2011.

The morels are teasing me again, flaunting their spongy faces and cooperating beautifully for foragers throughout much of the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard. Whether you’re from Mississippi or Michigan, chances are you are finding morels, and flooding my inbox with tongue-tickling photos of juicy blacks and yellows.

At first I tried to keep my cool. Since I am in Northern Vermont, reports of Missouri or Kentucky morels were not enough to send me into a frenzy, even when shroomers complained about “only” finding 47 morels.  

Soon, the morel sightings started to trickle northward – Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, oh my! Even this I could handle, though I must admit to getting a bit too excited by a piece of egg crate foam in a field near my house that momentarily resembled a baby morel.

Then, yesterday afternoon as I was sitting down for lunch, an email arrived with “early season black morels!!” in the subject line. I opened it, expecting yet another envy-inducing report of someone hitting a honey hole (shroomer parlance for an epic patch) in the wilds of southern Appalachia. But as I looked closer, I realized the morels were found at “an undisclosed location” near my former home of Ithaca, New York last Friday, March 23.

Sure, the fellow had just found a few small blacks, and Ithaca is over 100 miles south of Burlington, but the find hit too close to home for comfort. While it is highly unlikely that we will see morels in Vermont before mid-April, especially given the recent bout of colder weather, the Ithaca report flicked an irreversible switch in my brain.

After receiving the email, I couldn’t sit still, so I went for a stroll on Burlington’s picturesque waterfront bike path.  I stole a few quick glimpses of the sun-soaked Adirondack Mountains across Lake Champlain, but it took great willpower to pry my gaze from the ground. The cold, dry soil looked decidedly inhospitable to morels, but this did little to halt my hunting. Soon I started to grow dizzy and began questioning why I wasn’t just taking in the view and smiling like the rest of the recreationists on the bike path, but there was no turning back.

Watch out for the morel's poisonous look-alikes, including the beefsteak shown in this photo. Unlike the beefsteak, true morels should always have one continuous hollow cavity that extends from cap to stem.

I convinced myself my hunting was “productive” despite the remote odds of discovery – after all, I was scoping out good black morel trees and practicing using my forager’s eyes after their winter hiatus. Perhaps I was even getting a smidgen of exercise as I slowly paced around the trunks of massive cottonwoods, my neck craned and my gaze fierce. Still, I wondered how odd I must have looked to the bikers, joggers, roller skaters, and loping dogs that paraded by and tried not to stare at the lanky man slouched over on the side of the path.

To all these well-intentioned recreationists, don’t mind me. It may be a few more weeks until I find a morel, but one of these days you will see me walking home looking decidedly triumphant.