Photo by Brian M. Collins
Sometimes when I’m writing, I get lost in a thick forest of words and thoughts. Fortunately, my stomach never fails to guide me back to my kitchen and a toasted cheese sandwich, or maybe mushroom soup. But lost in an actual forest, well, Mr. Stomach is clueless. The big lug can’t help me out one bit.
One warm Saturday in May, Mr. Stomach and I left our cabin to hunt for the elusive and tasty morel mushroom. Lilacs were in full bloom, a sure sign of prime mushroom hunting. In my back pocket I had a folded-up brown grocery bag, and I was as hopeful as a fisherman heading out with a stringer and a landing net.
It was the first spring after we bought the cabin surrounded by thousands of acres of unfenced woodland in the coulees of the Minnesota River Valley. Mr. Stomach and I didn’t pay much attention to where we were headed. I kept my eyes on the ground or up in the air searching for dead trees around which morels often grow.
We found a few small, gray morels. But Mr. Stomach wanted more mushrooms to go with a yummy steak dinner. We pushed on deeper into the big woods, searching for the really big, yellow morels.
Suddenly, like a man patting his empty back pocket who knows his wallet is gone, I knew I was lost. Why hadn’t I paid more attention to landmarks!? Slowly, I turned 360 degrees. Nothing. Just trees and hills and more trees over the next hill. I was as turned around as a dizzy, blindfolded kid at a birthday party swinging at a piñata.
My hands started to sweat. My pulse quickened. Mr. Stomach rumbled something. Thanks, buddy, I thought. What’s that mean, huh? I’m lost, you’re hungry. Help me find home, help me find the kitchen.
Locked in a closet of trees, I couldn’t get my bearings. Breathing deeply, I forced myself to calm down. I stared up at the gray sky and listened to the frogs, hoping they could guide me back to the cabin. “Ribbet, ribbet,” the frogs said. “Follow the trickle at the bottom of a hill to the main creek and then to the river. A bridge will appear. Ribbet.” Without stopping to wonder if I was now losing my mind, I took the frogs’ advice.
As I came down out of the coulees exhausted and onto the bottomland, I saw a distant bridge, as the frogs had promised. Hallelujah! I was saved. And rewarded, for all around a huge cottonwood stump I found a passel of yellow beauties. I filled my grocery bag with enough morels for a great meal and enough to share. Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!
The next time we went morel hunting in the big woods, Mr. Stomach made me take along a compass so he could find his way back to the kitchen. Maybe he’s not so clueless after all.
Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like.