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My Facebook feed from Love My Ozarks is filled with mushrooms these days, proud finds from morel hunters who, of course, never quite reveal their secret spot.

I was never much of a mushroom hunter, not from a lack of desire, but from a lack of ability to find the darn things. Then my great friend Rod Walton took me mushroom hunting one spring, and I came back with a sackful. My vision didn’t miraculously improve; what I learned was how to see and where to look.

When we see a map of Missouri’s ecosystems, even a relatively sophisticated one such as this one from the EPA, we know intuitively that it’s just an approximation.

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In reality, our landforms are much more varied. A while back, I visited Finger Lakes State Park just a couple of miles north of my house, and just in the short distance of the Kelley Branch Trail a hiker will pass through a buckeye grove, a birch grove, and a pine grove, in addition to the usual oak-hickory forest. Diversity, not uniformity, is the norm in an Ozarks forest. That was my problem hunting mushrooms; I didn’t know the right micro-environment to be looking in.

Subtle shifts in sunlight, soil type, slope, adjacent vegetation, moisture, and other factors produce a forest that is different from the forest only a few yards away. Ozarks landscapes do not offer us the grand experience of the sublime, but rather the rewards of close examination, the appreciation of small things.

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Anemone and trillium here, wild ginger there. orange puccoon over there. Microclimates and micro-environments, the joy of variation within small spaces.

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