Blood, Sweat, and Morels
I don’t expect this to go anywhere outside of the immediate vicinity of my Facebook crew, but in case it does, you need to know that my wife and I have four children. Three of those children are adopted, and all three are maternal siblings.
The youngest of those is Drake.
Drake is a redhead, and Drake meets all the criteria of every stereotype you’ve ever heard about redheads. He’s…a handful. So much so that he’s now an Okay Mustang. Those of you in the know will remember that he was going to school where my wife teaches, and last weekend his behavior got so bad we had to do an emergency transfer.
Things have been stressful at the Sloat House. We’re still struggling with his bathroom issues, and it got to a point last Sunday evening that he left marks on me in a physical altercation. He’s eight.
I am not a good parent to children under the age of thirteen. Alicia and I once joked that she would raise them to teenagers, and I would handle it from there. I must say, I’ve been okay (minus the few small hiccups) with the two teens in our home, although I still can’t keep the girl child away from jackass mullet-haired idiots in lifted trucks.
Speaking of trucks, let’s mash the brakes on the one we’re currently metaphorically piloting and talk for a second about morel mushrooms.
Three or four weeks ago I got the bug. I don’t know if it came with my Bill Gates 5G Covid shot or if I watched too much Steven Rinella and Atomic Shrimp on YouTube and decided I should be “living off the land” more. The point is, I decided to go out morel hunting.
Here’s what they don’t tell you about morel hunting: that shit is hard.
Two weeks ago when I went out, I took my wife and the three year old, and after fifteen feet in the woods my wife was sighing loudly and generally acting the same way I do when she’s been in TJ Maxx too long. So we left, and I promised myself I’d be back out the next weekend.
Brake check. Everyone buckled?
The Weekend of Drake happened. He wrote all over the inside of my wife’s van with a pen, jumped out of the van whilst it was moving, the police had to be called to find him, and he fought those officers when they brought him back. A few days later, he tried to fight me and left bruises on my wrist. A trip to the doctor led us to slowly backing off all his medications to establish what I am lovingly calling a “baseline crazy.”
For the last week, Drake has been going to school with me, and for the last week we’ve not had many problems. We’ve long thought he doesn’t have the same will to act out around me that he does with Alicia, and we’re testing that theory—along with the meds—with a small amount of success.
This morning I threw some chickens in a brine, looked at Drake, and asked him if he wanted to go morel hunting. He reluctantly agreed, and I outfitted him with a small metal spike and a plastic bag to store all the morels we’d find (despite my claims of being a pragmatist, all available evidence supports me being an indefatigable optimist).
We drove about ten minutes from the house and jumped out on some Corps land. We walked along a trail for little bit, and then I spied a particularly mushroomy looking south-facing slope.
“Let’s head up, son.”
Thus began a two hour trek that would culminate, of course, in me getting us lost in the woods. The first hour and a half was filled with the hope of us finding our first morel. To his credit, Drake didn’t gripe once. I thought he’d completely checked out and wasn’t paying attention, but I was soon to be proven wrong.
We saw a bright green snake. We saw a lightning-felled tree. We saw an abandoned Nike tennis shoe (nature). We swatted mosquitos and picked ticks. We heard a woodpecker. We drug our appendages through more thorns than I’ve ever seen. We scoured the ground with the attentiveness of Sherlock Holmes trying to pick up a scuff mark on a wooden floor.
“Okay son, you can keep looking, but I’m going to try to get us out of here.”
And about five minutes later it happened. After struggling to hear my son all day long, I heard the words:
“Wait. Dad. Is that a mushroom?”
I was about fifteen scrabbly yards ahead of him, and I don’t honestly remember passing that distance to get back, where I peered down and saw my first wild morel mushroom.
If you were on Corps land near Fort Gibson Lake at 1 p.m. today and you heard a scream that interrupted your day, I’d like to apologize. You see, I’ve always been a hunter, and I’ve never really had success at the whole gathering thing, unless you count yanking up spring onions (and breaking most) in my backyard.
I high-fived him so hard it knocked him back. Then I high-fived him again. I made him take a picture. I texted my wife. And then:
“Pick it up son. You did this. You made this whole trip worth it.”
If I’ve read it once I’ve read it ten thousand times: “If you find one, you’ll find more nearby.”
Pardon me, but horse hockey. We didn’t find a single other one. But we looked. We looked so hard. Drake’s nose was practically on the ground, and he was grinning ear to ear and saying “That wasn’t near a tree at ALL, dad. It wasn’t even near a tree!”
Of course we still had to get out of the woods, but you don’t want to hear about that (it took an hour). I cradled that single morel like I had a bald eagle egg in my hand.
We got home and I split that morel into four portions and lightly fried it in butter. My boy, who had never once expressed interest in a vegetable or fungus, ate his half and proclaimed it to be the best thing he’d ever eaten.
I could not have agreed more.
I just finished telling my wife about this, only with more details than you’d care to read (if you’re still with me, thank you). While standing in the kitchen talking about it, Drake popped his head in from the living room, where he’s been watching morel hunting videos on YouTube for the last hour.
“Dad. You should SEE how many mushrooms this guy has!”
My wife smiled at me and dropped a hammer on my heart.
“I think he’s just glad to have gotten one right.”
I am too, Drake.
I am too.