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A drawing of Sister Marie by Eric P. Roorda.

The Alcona Conservation District teams up twice a year with its Iosco County counterpart to organize a mushroom hunt each spring and fall in the Ingalls Forest near Tawas.

The event of last spring… well, you know what happened. But last fall’s hunt continued, attracting 70 masked amateur mycologists, who gathered 55 species in 90 minutes.

It was a lot of fun and I learned a ton so decided to come back for the spring hunt on Saturday May 22nd.

Some general information: Mycology is the study of fungi. The earliest writings on the subject are the work of the Greek author Euripede (480-406 BC), best known for his tragedies, Medea and Electra. Carl Linnaeus, who assigned Latin names to all known plants and animals in the 1700s, placed fungi in the plant kingdom, with gender labels as Boletus (the deadliest). The father of the estate is Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, a South African naturalist who published the seminal work in mycology, Synopsis Methodica Fungorum in 1801. Persoon is credited with inventing the maxim, “Be sure of your mushroom before consuming.”

In recent decades, advanced research has shown that in terms of evolution, fungi are actually more closely related to species in the animal kingdom. But let’s not go there. Vegetarians already have a limited menu.

After a period of drought that discouraged the emergence of morels in my house, it rained overnight, and I found the first (as in, one) of the season outside the house, just before go mushroom hunting. Surely auspicious, I thought …

But the muggy and cloudy day resulted in a small turnout, only five people, not counting the pros, who were four.

The star of the mushroom hunts is Sister Marie Kopin, the only surviving nun of the Order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Mount Pleasant convent, and a mushroom specialist from Michigan Mushroom Hunter’s Club. She learned mycology from her father, who passed on the expertise of her father and grandmother as a child, wandering the woods of Genessee County on the go.

Think of a nun. What image does your mind produce? A lady in a black dress and a black veil? The only black shoes Sister Marie wore were tall rubber boots, like those worn by hardened commercial fishermen. The rest of her outfit was overalls, a white cardigan and a beige hat. The nun you imagined was probably standing straight with her hands clasped. Not Sister Marie, whose posture looked more like a relentless commercial fisherwoman than a wise mother superior.

If Maria from “The sound of music” had never met the dashing Herr Von Trapp, and had stayed at the convent, she could have revealed herself as Sister Marie, wandering the alpine prairies identifying the races of Edelweiss, instead of roaming the woods of northern Michigan to differentiate the mushrooms.

Sister Marie introduced her sidekick as “Heather the head of the hunt.” It’s a serious designation. You can’t just read “The Audubon guide to mushrooms” and declare yourself qualified to take other people on a mushroom hunt. You must be certified by the state of Michigan, by taking a course, and then achieving at least 80% on an exam. The same certification, along with a fee of $ 200, is required to sell wild mushrooms.

Sister Marie told us a lot of fascinating information about mushrooms. She mentioned “Mycopic fungi” near Ludington, which grows mushrooms in an old factory.

She said a mycologist friend woven her hat with fibers dyed from mushrooms. It was a bell, popular with flappers – Clara Bow wore one. It made Marie look like a mushroom. (If people are starting to look like their dogs and mycological fungi, that explains my fossil complexion.)

Sister Marie reminded me of a wise woman I met in Belize, who took me for a walk in the jungle, showing me many useful plants, tapping into the knowledge passed down by her ancient Mayan ancestors, who gathered the same herbs, vines and mushrooms.

There is no such thing as a Catholic patron saint of mushrooms. I imagine Sister Marie to be canonized one day and take the title, after being credited with miracles related to mushrooms!

Sister Marie did not mention the subject of “magic mushrooms,” which also emerge at this time of year. On that note, it’s time for the state of Michigan to follow the progressive lead of the city of Ann Arbor and legalize mind-altering psylocybin. Research by Dr. Roland Griffiths, head of the neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins University, has documented their healthful psychological effects. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKm_mnbN9JY

Unfortunately, the woods contained few edible treasures on this occasion. But time spent in the woods is never time wasted, with or without morels.

Fortunately, the day ended with a delicious meal, built around the one perfect specimen of morels that greeted my eyes in the morning.

Then go to bed to dream of finding more tomorrow …

Eric Paul Roorda, Ph.D., is an author, artist and university professor. Most importantly, he’s an occasional cartoonist and columnist for The Alpena News. His political cartoons appear on Mondays, and “The Whitetail Family” a coloring book in serial form, appears on Saturdays on the Outdoors page. You can order the coloring book for $ 15 from [email protected]

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