First Things

Conducting Field Research

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By the time you receive this issue, the morel mushroom season should be underway, at least in the Midwest. Mushrooming is an old farm-country tradition, one of the few that endures. Community threshing, square dances at the Grange hall and township-wide wolf hunts are, for the most part, victims of progress. But mushrooms exert a powerful pull. After the first stretch of warm days and nights, on a sunny day following a gentle May shower, folks of the mushroom persuasion tend to disappear for hours at a time.

Many try to cover their tracks with fairly lame alibis. Others, particularly those who've found enough fungus to fill a few bread bags, will actually admit what they were up to. ("We were swimming in them," crowed one hunter as he described a respectable haul.) But none will divulge the location of the hunting grounds. Marry into a mushroom-hunting family, and years could pass before the family patriarch stops transporting you to the site blindfolded. This is serious business, the kind of thing prenuptial agreements were designed for.

During mushroom season, friends of long-standing can become rivals. I recall a pair I once knew, two men, practically blood brothers, and both mushroom hunters. One season, one of the men was awash in morels. His pal, however, struck out. The first fellow, feeling as flush as the guy with the winning lottery ticket, invited a dozen friends - including his hapless buddy - to a mushroom fry. Just before the guests arrived, the host selected a half dozen of the largest mushrooms from his haul - the kind that are about six inches tall - and "planted" them under a tree just off his patio. Space and propriety do not allow me to relate the entirety of the buddy's reaction as he first spotted the fungus, went on point, and then realized he'd been had. Suffice to say he found perhaps less humor in the scene than did his fellow guests.

What's that have to do with antique farm equipment? Not a lot … unless you're one of the lucky few who've stumbled onto one of those exceptionally rare antique mushroom harvesters. We've just about completed restoration on ours and are looking forward to trying it out any day now. So if you call and no one picks up: Be patient. We're just doing some field research!

Leslie McManus, Editor
lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com