My husband and my father spread out on either side of me in the thick shade of the trees, slowly scanning the forest floor. I carried a long, misshapen stick I’d grabbed along the trail, and now I used it to guide my eyes, scanning along the arc of its tip as I moved it back and forth in front of my feet. I gently pulled back clumps of crispy brown leaves, the hearty survivors of the winter’s snow. They made our task more of a challenge, blanketing the ground and matching the shade of the hidden gems we sought. We were hunting morel mushrooms, rare woodland treats of the rural Pennsylvania of my childhood.
My shoulders and neck ached from stooping over for a better view of the ground, and my eyes blurred from the pallet of brown and gray. I looked for small growths rising from the moist earth, little conical protrusions with twisted ridges and irregular pockets, like the texture of a sea sponge—or a small brain.
Back in the kitchen, we’d soak them in salt water and coat them in a bed of flour, then place them in a pan of spitting, sizzling butter. Crunchy, salty, buttery wild mushrooms—with the distinctive flavor I always forgot how much I liked.
My eyes caught an irregular pattern in their circuit. There—nestled in the curve of a rock, a sea-sponge-brain the size of my little finger. A yelp of delighted surprise at my discovery brought my dad and Scott trotting over to my side. We stood staring at our first find of the day, and I bent down to gently pluck the mushroom from the ground.
* * * *
Joy. It’s like the quest for morels. A long afternoon of bending and searching, and rubbing one’s eyes, feeling certain that there’s nothing out there or that there’s no way you’ll find such a small little thing on the big expanse of the side of the mountain. Then, when you’ve about had it staring at the ground, you stumble upon the treasure you sought. And that delight gives you the boost you needed to keep up the search.
Treasure these moments of joy, the surprising laughter, the moments when your soul fills to the brim and sighs out its fullness. They are gifts, little victories, glimmers of grace.