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