It is the ultimate forager’s dilemma. After miles of hunting, you spot your first morel of the season, a pristine yellow. You yelp gleefully, smile uncontrollably, reach down to feel its cool flesh in your palm.  You reach for your pocketknife as you prepare to harvest it from the sandy spring soil.

And then, you spot the dog shit. Not just one turd, but two – not quite touching your prize, but undeniably too close for comfort. What’s a good forager to do?

It’s not easy, but you have to leave that morel in the ground, just as I did Wednesday night after discovering a morel at my favorite childhood swimming hole and dog run. The nuances of terroir are a beautiful thing, but the terroir of turd (or arsenic, for that matter) is simply not worth sampling.

If the problem is just a piece of poop, at least you have discovered fertile hunting ground, and you can bushwhack beyond the fray where you may find more morels without the baggage. If the problem is widespread contamination, well, at least you have gotten some good practice using your forager’s eyes. By a mysterious law of nature, once you have seen one morel, your odds of finding a new patch increase exponentially. You gain a newfound confidence, a heightened awareness of morel habitat and fruiting patterns. You have developed Morel Mind.

Morels are exquisitely wild, yet they have a penchant for colonizing disturbed ground, from the great burns out West to New England’s craggy (and often lead-laden) old apple orchards. Morels love roadsides, poison ivy, and treated wood chips as much as they love wilderness and ancient elm and ash trees.

As foragers, we know exactly where our food is coming from. I don’t buy morels at the grocery store, for there is limited quality control. Foraging is the art of finding the freshest seasonal wild foods, harvesting with an ethic of long-term stewardship, studying the nuances of place and the ecological history of the landscape, and cooking them with a sensitivity to the essence of each wild ingredient. Knowing your mushrooms means knowing the land from which they fruit.