creative nonfiction by Ned Weidner
Morel hunting is serious business around here. Some folks get the fever. Fever-stricken hunters come out of the woods dripping with sweat and dirtier than a flea-bit hound and try to cash in. The Bolte General Store outside Hillsboro where the sign reads “Bait, Beer, Gas, and Grocery” but also contains a wide assortment of antiques including vintage pinball machines, was a hotbed for folks with the fever. They’d walk out of the woods and drop brown bags of the fungus on the counter demanding top dollar. Bill would of course oblige because he knew he could get three times their price in the city. Plus, most these morelheads would drop half their cash on instant lotto tickets or change it into quarters and burn it playing the Arabian Night pinball machine in the corner. It ain’t all fungus and lotto tickets in the world of morel fever though. Down by the river, morel hunting gets as serious as ginseng and heart attacks. Dan Gartman, the guy who manages Utter’s deer farm and has a mild to severe case of PTSD depending on how many Budweiser’s he’s had, has been known to park his CJ at the bluff overlooking their property and shoot over the heads of prospective poachers. One late April, he grazed the top of my hat on the way for a visit. “I thought you was one of them bastards coming to take our morels,” he said without a bit of remorse in his voice. “No, Dan. Just coming to say hi.” Down in the hollows, they sometimes plant flashbang explosives near known patches or guard the property with dogs. Folks don’t go to the woods in the spring around here without knowing where they are stepping.
Ned Weidner is a fisherman and writer who spent the first twenty years of his life learning to be human by running the hollows and creeks of southern Ohio. Now he is an English professor in Southern California who, when he is not climbing a desert crag, stalking trout, or foraging in the pines, can be found dreaming about returning to his Appalachian roots.