Morel Madness!
an Essay by Patricia Kindig
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In Indiana, early spring carries with it a yearly phenomenon that bears both bliss and confusion. This event does not hold to a certain date, but only appears at the will of nature and the weather conditions. Some years-weather not perfect-the event nearly goes without reward, but weather permitting the pleasure can be most unbearable.

            Just as the sun is melting the last winter snow and warming up the frozen ground in readiness for the spring blooming season, a hidden process is going on just beneath the surface of the ground. It is a time of nature’s great activity, preparing itself for everything fresh and new.

            As this most exciting metamorphous of nature occurs, a change is also taking place on a select group of people who anticipate what is soon to come. These people begin watching weather forecasts. They are praying for warm, humid nights, light rains, and drizzle. Nothing would suit them more than to see the ground turn to a damp, warm, musty, soft layer of dirt. This group of souls also starts having nightly dreams. They’ll dream of walking through the woods in search of the one thing that makes their heart race so fast they can barely breathe. Upon awakening, they know what’s coming. They know they are about to be hit with an affliction that no one can stop and that their minds cannot control. As Mother Nature is in her process changing the seasons, a mysterious change is starting to overcome them and this is called—Morel Madness.

            Morel Madness cannot be found in any medical or scientific journal. But it is a true state-of-being, possibly comparable to March Madness, Motorcycle Mania, or Hunting Season. Morel Madness is the affliction from which one suffers in search of the elusive morel mushroom. It only lasts a short period of time, normally ranging from mid April through the end of May. It affects men, women, and older children. Some people get it so badly it takes over their lives for a few short weeks. Others only suffer mildly and seem able to control it. At the root of Morel Madness is the morel mushroom (sponge mushroom); an edible mushroom, which grows a sponge-like cap or hood, that at the whim of nature, can grow almost anywhere. Some of the most likely places are: woods, meadows, along railway tracks, and country roads. But they can also sprout up in yards, around outbuildings, creeks, ponds, and rivers. The problem is that morels do not grow in abundance. Mother Nature is very stingy with one of her most prized possessions. When cleaned, breaded, and fried in a skillet laden with butter, this mushroom is one of the most mouth-watering, delectable, savory treats one can indulge. A person suffering from Morel Madness suffers the driving force to search for these mushrooms. Every waking minute is spent with morels on the mind. In fact, every night is spent dreaming of these culinary delights.

            Morel Madness puts the afflicted in a state of blissful confusion. They are blind and slow to react to anything going on around them. Their minds have narrowed down to a tunnel with only one goal; to get out and hunt mushrooms. A person, who under normal circumstances, would never venture into the woods alone, becomes a force to be reckoned with. Neither snakes nor beasts, nor thunderstorms, nor threats of tornados, nor winds will keep them out of the woods. They become secretive and solitary with only one goal in mind; to search for and find mushrooms.

            This madness causes some undesirable behavior changes. The suffering have been known to call their workplaces claiming death-bed diseases, sickness, and promising to check back in a week or two. They have cancelled family vacations and get-togethers if it happens to be a productive mushroom season. They feign forgetfulness, not showing up for important events. They disappear for hours on end, not telling anyone where they are going. They won’t answer the telephone fearing someone will ask a favor that will take them away from their mission. If not in the woods or walking the country roads, they mope around with a far-away look in their eyes and a nervous, fidgety appearance. Yes, this is a real affliction.

            If it happens that two or more people who suffer with Morel Madness team up for a mission to the woods, the results can be devastating. This disease can turn friend against friend, family member against family member. Guidelines should be set before anyone steps foot in the woods. Perimeters need to be laid out that come no closer than yelling distance of each other. One sufferer should never cross this line unless invited by the other. If a person moves out of an area, another may enter that area after they leave. If a person finds a “hot spot,” another may not go back alone and scour that area at a later date without asking permission first. If a person in the party lets out a blood-curdling scream, before running into their space, ask if they are ok. The cause just might be a huge find and one cannot infringe on their area. Once broken, these guidelines cause great distress with one another that can last much longer than the actual disease—Morel Madness.

The only thing that saves society from enduring these people year round is that as fast as the disease comes on; it leaves. Once the mushroom season is over and the days turn to summer, those afflicted immediately change back into the same dependable, productive people they were before. They will talk about their stories with others. They tell how many times they were lost in the woods and how they were stalked by wild animals. They will show pictures of all their “pickings”. (Everyone who suffers from Morel Madness carries a camera to take “shots” of the mushrooms before they are picked.) They will “fess-up” to all the responsibilities they ignored and the lies they told to keep themselves in the woods.

But as Mother Nature changes from season to season; Morel Madness lies just under the skin, waiting to rear its ugly head again next spring.