Man, what a week! Spent most of the week narrating “Split Second” by Alex Kava, then finished narrating my own book “Pepper Wellington and the Case of the Missing Sausage” on Friday, saw a run-through of my play on John James Audubon performed at the GRAM (2nd performance on the 27th) , prepped for teaching summer classes, had two panic attacks (not really), drank mojitos on a Thursday afternoon and chatted with a friend, then Friday afternoon, loaded the kiddos in the car with major amounts of luggage and drove with Kealoha to Northern Michigan to hunt for morels…and for him to meet my family for the first time.
Of course, he’s met my mom and brother and sister, but I’m talking my extended family. My two uncles, two aunts, and seven cousins. With everyone in the house, we were a party of nearly twenty. And Kealoha passed with flying colors.
Friday night, my aunts watched the kids (mine and my cousin’s) so the Adults could go out mushroom hunting. It was getting dark out and wet and the woods were moody, but we went anyway. We found some right away. Walking through the woods, I was reminded on why I like hunting for morels so much. First of all, they aren’t very fast. They basically stay in the same place. You have to get hyper-focused and try to feel the vibrations of the mushrooms. If you are very quiet, the mushrooms will speak quietly and it will sound like rain on your soul.
Crazy much? Nah. I’m just joking. The above is BS. Basically, you try not to step on them. We told Kealoha that if he wanted to be accepted into my family (and my life) he’d have to fill an entire bag with mushrooms. To my delight, he scampered off with an enormous bag hoping to do just that. With the lack of mushrooms (it was cold), we reduced that amount to two…and someone else could find them for him. No need though. Kealoha is a natural hunter. You should see the war paint.
That night we spent together as a family, all of us around an enormous table in my aunt and uncle’s great room. We had veggie chili, cornbread, and other snacks. And we laughed. A lot. I was too brain dead to play card games like the others, but I managed to stay up past 8PM.
The fog rolled in sometime during the night. Usually when we go mushroom hunting it’s so hot, you get sun burned. This time it was like hunting in late October. So instead of early morning searching, my uncle wanted to take Kealoha on a tour of the area. After breakfast, the aunts watched the kids again (they were having fun creating space worms from socks) and we were off. I felt like I was in Maine. Everything was ghosty and moody and the writer in me was very pleased with the potential for a new mystery novel. Then I told the writer in me to just shut the hell up and relax for once.
We explored dunes, dense woods, and winding roads. And I sat in the back and listened to my Uncle spin local tales.
Then we joined the family and after some general herding, got into four different cars and took off for the woods. In the first woods, we didn’t find any morels, only beefsteaks, but it was still fun. When you look for mushrooms, you can stare at a patch of leaves and not see anything, and then your eyes suddenly focus and you go “Oh!” It’s called getting your Mushroom Eyes on.
We had the kids this time so there was plenty of chatter. Each kid has to choose an adult to buddy with. We learned this since we lost one of my cousins in the woods twenty years ago. Eventually we found her. That was exciting and all, but we sorta decided not to repeat that.
Since this woods wasn’t cooperating, we went to the next one. We have a secret hill we go to where we planted pink and purple lilac bushes in memory of my grandparents. The pink lilacs were planted over twenty years ago when my grandmother passed away; the purple ones ten years ago for Grandpa. Over the years, the flowers have grown together and mixed. It’s enough to make you weepy. We stop to honor our family, to tell stories of finding bags and bags of mushrooms. I could get super poetic here, but let’s just say it’s a moment where we all acknowledge that mushroom hunting isn’t really about hunting for mushrooms at all, it’s just an excuse to get together.
Of course, then we all started finding mushrooms on that very hill. Tricky white ones. You’d stare at the ground and see just the tip of one, uncover some straw, and there were four or five. Kealoha and I found a patch of fifteen. It was very exciting.
The rain came then so we went to The Friendly in Empire for burgers.
My family is composed of characters and gamers. Once we’d eaten again, we played Guillitione (a card game), poker, and then Pictionary. Favorite moment of the evening was my mom and uncle going head to head. My uncle is like this math genius or something, and my mom was intimidated. My uncle looked at the card and said “I have no idea what to do”. Mom buckled in and immediately drew a peace symbol. Her team guessed in less than a second. “That was it? The prompt was PEACE?” we said. My uncle shook his head. “I don’t know what happened. I was trying to think of how not to draw war.”
In the morning, we had leftover crepes and egg casserole that I’d made the day before, chatted quietly as the house woke up and then were on our way. Apparently one of my uncles said to Kealoha that he passed the test and wouldn’t be buried in the basement with the other boyfriends of mine they didn’t like. Kealoha said “Well, I bet they make great fertilizer for mushrooms”. See? He fits right in.
At home, after the kiddos were picked up by their dad, I made some sauteed morels for Kealoha. He took a bite and I saw the wave pass over his face. "I get it now," he said. The mushrooms are meaty, with a chewy texture and a flavor that is rich, subtle and really hard to explain. I think it's that umami flavor they talk about. With butter and a little salt, it's a decadent pleasure.