A Story Without a Morel

The trilliums were—are—blooming; it was the right time of year. I drove a hundred miles into the Cascades with a map of past years’ fires, hungry for the miracle that arises after burning. But about eight miles out from the burn, the right turn I needed to make was blocked by a fallen pine and three inches of snowpack. My colleague and I lugged half a broken tree aside, but the main trunk was hopeless. We conferred and decided to hike in as far as we could, which turned out to be four miles, over a decent amount of snow and many more downed trees, before turning around. Sixteen miles in one day would have been too much, and at that late hour, with emergency assistance emphatically blocked by several dozen wind-felled pines, and not enough water on our persons, unwise.

The walk was hot, dusty, and dry. Now and then we stepped over scat into a cloud of orange fritillaries that had been sipping the salts therefrom. Pale blue butterflies (whether silvery blues, blue coppers, Anna’s blues, or Boisduval's blues, I could not say) also kept us company. A couple of inch-long frogs, mint green (Pacific tree, I think) and speckled brown (perhaps Columbia spotted), hopped along the path. Snowmelt trickled and streamed and gushed, and the moss grew lush and green where it poured. We were amply compensated for our time.

But I was sorry I couldn’t show her what I wanted to, which was more than the morels themselves, pitted and wrinkled and magical as witches, their names an incantation: Morchella tormentosa. Morchella snyderi.

It’s a kind of knowledge that you put your knife to, and lay in your basket, and cook and eat, so that it becomes part of you and can’t be lost. It’s knowing that after the fires that rage through the woods, after windows shut in the summer heat against ash fall and smoke, after the death and the loss and the grieving—a year later, when the trillium is blooming again, and the snow is melting, out of the charcoal and the wide gray scar on the mountain comes a wild fruiting and glory of dark deliciousness, where we’d expect there to be nothing at all.

I’m sure the morels are fruiting in the ashes now, undisturbed.

We left them there.