Mushrooming in the Sandhills

by Timothy Murphy

for Danny Mahli

I. May 3, 2010

We stalk the ruins of a former farm
for mushrooms, search the base of every tree.
Blackflies, mosquitoes and no-see-ums swarm,
and a wood tick is creeping up my knee.

Back at the truck, we soak a dingy towel
to wrap the tap root of an infant oak
dug from the Sand Hills with a sharpened trowel.
High overhead we hear a raven croak.

Danny, I held your infants in my arms,
"Ego vos baptismo," I gently said.
The spirit trees come from our forebears’ farms
where leaves speak their sibilants to the dead.


II. May 15, 2011

Erosive dunes from eighty years ago,
this blow sand is an artifact of drought,
but now the wooden bridges are washed out
and field roads, flooded by the melted snow.
Slough merges with slough across each trail
our Blazer fords, seeking our Holy Grail:
newly emerged and here only this week,
morels! the truffles of the tall grass prairie
defended by barbed wire and thorns, a fairy
ring of mushrooms.  Here are the trees we seek,
scrub aspens hemmed between the fence and road,
and lucky us, we find the mother lode.
Asked how they taste, I grope for Hardy’s words:
        like Particles of grain
        And earth, and air and rain
He was describing young-of-the-year song birds.
Like whispered Hardy, or Thomas Campion sung,
morels explode softly on teeth and tongue.
Ransom and Richland Counties-I have come
not for morels, but hours spent with a friend
without whose care I might have met my end
marching in chains to Moloch’s leaden drum,
not with my boots immured in mushroom mud.
Platonic love?  Ours runs thicker than blood.

III.  May 22, 2011

Our last time out I wore my hunting boots.
Now rubber ones are cinched tight at the knee.
Veterans of many prairie pheasant shoots,
 we skirt the shoreline of Lake Agassiz.

Our last time out I wore a short-sleeved shirt.
Scars on my forearms still recall the scabs
from barbed brush and my tumbles in the dirt.
Now I am clad in Goretex camo drabs.

Here is the field trail which we two must travel
to find our mushrooms, still a knee-deep ford.
We drag our boots over its flooded gravel,
seeking your Chevy's severed running board.

Had I a son, I’d like him to be you,
and grandson?  Patrick, your four-year-old, would do.

—The Sheyenne National Grasslands

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