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Egret, the oldest independent
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Egret, Vol. 75, #1
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passed through the small wooded lowland hollow, a couple of gray
squirrels and a fox squirrel ran and climbed up various bur oaks. MMM -
I'd have to remember this. Might get one for supper some day next
of a River Rat"
"Now I'm in the Big
Woods, sitting in the shade of the old basswoods. How they whisper in
the breeze! The water in the log pool is dark and foreboding. A fine
scum rests against the upstream edge of the logs. How long have they
lain in their watery grave? Two red-tail hawks soar on silent wings;
around and around they go. Are they related to the hawk we watched on
my first trip here more than forty years ago? I'd like to think so. A
splash in the scum breaks the spell. I look down to see ripples where a
trout took a fly."
"The Spring That Runs Forever"
of a River Rat
Adventures Along the Wild Mississippi
by Kenny Salwey
The "Wild Mississippi" in this collection of essays is the backwaters
of the Upper Mississippi River in Minnesota and Wisconsin, some six
thousand acres of seasonally flooded hardwood swamps and heavily
forested uplands. Though wild and undeveloped and largely unspoiled,
this land is in constant earshot of one of North America's noisiest
This has been the domain of nature writer, storyteller, river
guide and environmental educator Kenny Salwey for more than three
decades. He describes it in first person prose, as if dictating en
plein air .
The subject of a 2004
BBC documentary in its Natural World
Collection, Salwey is often referred to as the "last of the
rare breed of people who pretty much live off the land in this harsh
Salwey's essays are predominantly autobiographical present tense
stories of his life in the wild - running a trapline, training a
hunting dog, studying wildlife, guiding birders, fishing for trout,
encountering bears and muskrats, and getting lost in a blizzard.
There's also a handful of his poems in the book and even a recipe for
Fog Over Upper Mississippi River
Kenny Salwey describes morel picking and trout fishing as his two
favorite activities of early spring in Wisconsin's hill country along
the Upper Mississippi where "cricks flow through narrow valleys shaped
by the feet of wooded hills, so trout-rich waters and morel-laden
forests are not far apart. In a day of fishin' and pickin', my
attention alternates between the underwater lairs of trout in the
valley's crick and the morel mushrooms found in the nearby hills."
Morel season is a short three to four weeks, according to Salwey, and
the supply depends on weather conditions and the number of dead or
damaged American elm trees in the area.
"The best place to locate a morel is in the vicinty of an elm tree
stricken with Dutch elm disease. I say 'vicinity' because I have found
morels fifty yards or more from their parent tree. Spores are what
cause morels to grow; they come from the tree's bark. At times, these
spores ride the tail of the wind for quite a distance before choosing a
place to land."
When it comes to spawning morels, the most productive time is the two
to three years between the time bark on an infected
elm begins to crack and when it falls off completely. Once the elm
loses all of its bark, few morels will be found nearby.
"At times, morels grow near elms that have been damaged by lightning
strikes or windstorms, when branches have been broken off or bark
loosened. I have also found morels near other damaged trees, like
cottonwooods and even apple trees. By the vast majority grow close to
dying elms," Salwey explains.
To harvest a morel, pull it up from the earth, cut off the root end
with a sharp knife or pinch it off and place in a bag. Once harvested,
split the morel lengthwise and wash thoroughly to remove grit or bugs.
They can be eaten fresh or storied for months with proper preservation.
To preserve morels, freeze in water or dry-freeze in plastic bags or
containers. They can also be dried in the open air or in a dehydrator
and then stored in sealed jars. Reconstitute in water when ready to use.
"Folks prepare morels in a whole host of different ways: deep-fried,
roasted, pan-fried, and blanched," Salwey points out. "My personal
favorite is to get a large cast-iron skillet full of smoking hot bacon
grease. Dredge the mushrooms in a mixture of cornmeal, salt and pepper,
and garlic powder. Drop them into the grease (they should be covered
with it). Turn them with a fork until they are brown and crispy on all
sides. Take them out of the past, and let them drain well. Eat them
piping hot. Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! That's what I call mighty
mouthwatering morel morsels!"
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