Keeping secrets in a smallish community such as this here Wallowa Valley can be an uphill endeavor. Fate recently snatched me by the ear and placed me squarely between two good friends in a scenario with no avenue to take the high road.
Betrayal of a friend’s confidence is last on the list of things I’d ever do. Right behind attending an opera.
But this tight spot I was in had zero outs. Twice I was entrusted with a confidence held dear. Twice was I thwarted.
There are a couple hard and fast rules to living here in the Wallowas. Never revealing a dependable morel mushroom location is one.
My job is wonderful. I spend time in pretty canyons, in pretty creeks and pretty rivers, working for Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries to improve living conditions for steelhead and Chinook salmon.
If you wolf your sandwich in the truck while your partner drives, you can sometimes squeeze in a walk in the woods for your lunch break and look for mushrooms.
Fresh air, exercise, morels. It’s a heck of a lunch break if you can stumble on enough morels to go home and make a powerhouse dinner.
Locations are limited, though. Has to be next to a lunch spot and on public ground with that magic mixture of morel-producing forest matter.
You learn to be very attentive to elevation, slope aspect, overnight lows, appropriate moisture content and composition of trees and undergrowth. It’s a whole deal.
So my regular coworker was heading off for vacation just as the mushrooms were starting to bust out. I would be finishing my shift with one of our bosses.
Hey man, my cohort said to me just as he left for Iceland. Maybe keep our secret morel spots ... you know ... secret.
Oh, for sure, I assured him. I drew the knife blade dramatically across my palm, swearing a blood oath to protect our mushroom grounds.
The next day it gets to be lunchtime, and my boss and I wolf our sandwiches so we can scour the woods for shrooms. Hey man, he says to me. I’m gonna take you to a few of my secret spots and ... you know ... maybe just keep them secret.
I dragged the knife blade reluctantly across my already-bandaged hand. Felt a little woozy. These blood oaths take a lot out of a guy.
Four inches is my guess on how far apart the tire tracks were from the day before when we parked at the first secret spot and where the tires came to rest 24 hours later.
Your secret is safe with me, I assured him, while brushing out my own bootprint from yesterday.
Next day, same deal. Second secret spot I was now twice-sworn to protect from the same two people.
I started walking toward an unlikely-looking patch of earth and got a helpful suggestion that I might have better luck traversing this other ground I’d already cleared of morels. Oh, I dunno. I just feel like over here might be good.
I’m not sure what the moral implications are of protecting overlapping morel spots. I tried my best. I failed. I think. Life sure gets complicated.
Here’s my current favorite morel pizza recipe:
Flatbread. El Pato spicy tomato sauce. Too much jack cheese. Fresh morels from a secret spot, sautéed in butter and garlic. Bacon. Red pepper, diced. Green onion, artfully sliced on a diagonal.
Sprinkle of Italian seasoning. Healthy dash of red pepper flakes. Bake until perfectly done. Wrap leftovers in foil for lunch tomorrow. Find more morels. Repeat.
Jon Rombach currently has both dried and frozen morels in the larder at his old log cabin. He writes a column for the Chieftain and can totally keep a secret. But not two.