Wild Morels on the Yellowstone Scott Carrier
The river rises and the mushrooms sprout.
Commentary: Road trip to the Yellowstone River
June 28, 2005 from Day to Day
MADELEINE BRAND, host: This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Time now for a summer road trip. Here's writer Scott Carrier with a story about just getting in the car and going.
I have a friend who hunts mushrooms in Montana. He called and said, `It's the spring runoff, man. We can borrow a drift boat from my neighbor and go out on the river and look for morels along the shore. Come up bring a bottle of wine and we'll have dinner.'
He lives in Paradise Valley. The river's the Yellowstone, a 500-mile drive from my home in Salt Lake City. But I told him I'd be there, and to wait for me. I left at night, slept in my truck and made it to Yellowstone Park by morning. I should have just driven straight through the park, but it was a beautiful day--cumulus clouds, fresh air, wildflowers--so I stopped along the way.
(Soundbite of running water)
CARRIER: First by a stream where I knew there were some hot springs. I went for a quick plunge, got out and sat by the pool, my skin tingling from the sulfur, and watched an osprey hover above the stream and then dive straight down, 50 feet, pulling up at the last instant, hitting the water talons first, but it flew away with nothing.
Then there were some buffalo crossing the Madison River. Twelve of them came down a steep hillside through some trees and walked single file across the river.
(Soundbite of buffalo wading through river)
CARRIER: The river was maybe four feet deep in the middle. And watching them struggle in the current, I realized their bodies are shaped like airfoils; big up front and coming to a point at the butt, maybe an adaptation for the high winds on the prairie.
(Soundbite of splashing)
CARRIER: Then there was Yellowstone Lake, where I had to stop and skip some rocks.
(Soundbite of splashing)
CARRIER: Then Yellowstone Falls. Below the lake, the river drops through a series of waterfalls down into Yellowstone Canyon.
(Soundbite of waterfall)
CARRIER: I didn't get out of the park until 6:00, driving north, following the Yellowstone River into Paradise Valley. I showed up at my friend's house as the sun was setting, apologized for being late. My friend said it was no big deal 'cause he and his wife had gone out on the river without me and brought back 60 to 80 morel mushrooms, cone-shaped sponges two to four inches long. Doug Peacock and his wife, Andrea.
Mr. DOUG PEACOCK: I'm just cutting these things in half, kind of blowing off the grass. And it's best not to wash them. You don't need to wash them. They're right off the river bottom. See, this is a black morel here; it's pretty thin-skinned. And here's a white morel. Oh, damn, these are sensual mushrooms.
CARRIER: All right. Tell me where you got--where did you get these?
Mr. PEACOCK: Well, on the Yellowstone River, on the islands in the Yellowstone River; cottonwood bottoms, willows, cottonwoods combined. They grow in such beautiful places, you can't believe it.
CARRIER: And they're fresh. These are special...
Mr. PEACOCK: Yeah, these are picked today. You should learn about these things, you ignorant son of a...
CARRIER: I should.
Mr. PEACOCK: You live here!
CARRIER: Not quite.
Mr. PEACOCK: And you have these gaps in your education, and that appalls me.
CARRIER: So where did you--What?
ANDREA (Peacock's Wife): I was just going to say we'll take these scraps and then throw them out in the yard and hope to start our own morel patch. We had a couple come up...
Mr. PEACOCK: Because of mycelia, you know. I mean, it just takes a spore. There are billions of spores dropping from these, billions of spores, and, you know, it grows underground as, like, a spider web of connections, you know, and it's called mycelia.
Mr. PEACOCK: But you know, this is a whole mass of mycelia, which is like this spider web, like, in almost microscopic stuff that grows underground. And the total number of intersections is greater than our brains or that of a great citation. So it could be some people, not even very hippie-like, sometimes argue that, you know, these are sentient creatures. They're much older--you know, they're the oldest things--you know, among the oldest things we know. They're not plant, they're not animal. They're whatever they are, and perhaps have cosmic memory as, you know, like an Earth memory as some of my microphylliac friends suspect. But they think that this--the mushroom itself is sentient, that it knows and perhaps it's evolved itself to be--to further that sentient awareness.
Mr. PEACOCK: It beats my ass. I just eat them. You know, you can do them all kinds of fancy gourmet ways. I just fry them up with butter, you know.
CARRIER: What are you making tonight? What's the dish?
Mr. PEACOCK: Well, I've got a chicken with a morel stuffing, and I'm going to saute those on top of the stove right now.
(Soundbite of mushrooms being sauteed)
CARRIER: The meal was excellent. The mushrooms served both as a stuffing inside the chicken and separately in a syrup of butter and olive oil; lots of red wine. We spoke of grizzly bears and Hollywood, the big monsters. We told stories about friends, the one who counts every bird he sees, the one who was hit by lightning and friends who'd died, like Edward Abby(ph). A shot of Jack Daniel's before going to bed.
(Soundbite of frogs croaking; cow mooing)
CARRIER: I drove home by a different route, along the headwaters of the Green River. It begins south of the park in a mountain range too beautiful to mention by name. The water comes down out of the mountains and winds through a high, wide valley that looks very much like the inner Alps between France and Switzerland.
I pulled off the highway onto private property, a 3,000-acre ranch along the river, drove down a dirt road and parked on a bridge over the river about a quarter-mile from the ranch house. I knew I was trespassing, but I also knew the owner of the land and knew he wasn't home, that he was in New York City undergoing treatment for cancer. I wanted to tell him, `Otis, it's cold here. The snow in the mountains hasn't even started to melt yet. The river is low and quiet by your house. The grass is as green as I've ever seen it, and there are pools of water all over the meadow, like little round mirrors reflecting the blue sky and white clouds. Your brother's cows are happy. The fish are waiting for your fly. Good luck, man.'
(Soundbite of banging noise)
BRAND: Writer Scott Carrier is part of the radio group HearingVoices.com.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Choir: (Singing in foreign language)
BRAND: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Madeleine Brand.