At this point a reader has two choices: either skip to the end of the essay to learn what a merkle is, or begin reading and try valiantly to pull the meaning from this garden of words from the former senator from Minnesota, who has written previously about merkles. Ed.
AFTER observing six merkle seasons carefully and scientifically, and studying the character and habits of merkle hunters, I have concluded that no two merkle seasons are alike, and that no two merkle hunters or gatherers are the same, and even that the same person as a merkle hunter changes from season to season.
Having had little success in my search for merkles last year, I was somewhat indifferent to the approach of this year's season. One Saturday early in April (ahead of time, I thought) I saw the usual sign of merkle hunter activity, a pickup truck parked marginally off Route 618, near a mountain ridge reputed to bear merkles. The width of Route 618 is such that one can park only marginally. That was a Saturday; I saw no hunter leaving the hill that day, but on Sunday in a casual walk, I met three searchers returning to their car. They were carrying paper bags, carefully, a sign that they had some success. I told them, truthfully, that I had a visitor who had never seen merkles and wondered if they could spare a sample or two. I was given one merkle. This limited generosity was comparable to what had been shown me in previous seasons. I was ready to conclude that all was as it had been in other years. I was wrong.
On the next Saturday someone left me not one merkle, but a quart or more, in a sack at my doorway with no identification. This seemed strange behavior. More was to follow.
On Easter Sunday, I received a call from Tom Massie, who two years ago, following Easter morning sunrise services on Red Oak Mountain, had told me that he was a successful merkle hunter and that he would take me with him the next year. The next year, with its season for seeking merkles (for I had never gathered any), came and went, with no call from Tom. My confidence and trust in Tom had begun to fade, but on this Easter day it was restored. He did take me with him into the mountains.
The merkles were there in great abundance, as one measures abundance of merkles. I had previously found under instruction a few merkles in old apple orchards, but never before made a true wood's find.
I returned to my house, with merkles enough to give to a neighbor, who in earlier years had accompanied me on unsuccessful forays into our woods.
Even more was to come. On the next weekend, I received a call from a person in Peola Mills who, remembering my sad story of previous years, recalling my despair of ever finding merkles, told me I was welcome to come pick merkles (``not all,'' she said) that were growing under a wild crab apple tree, the location of which she offered to give me. I thanked her and asked to be remembered another year, and reported my satisfying success on the previous weekend. Adding that I had even given some merkles away.
I am not yet ready to believe that merkle hunters can always be counted on to be sharing and generous under all circumstances and all seasons but have revised the judgment, which was growing to be almost absolute because of my experience with them in years past, that they were all unreliable, not quite untruthful, but lacking in generosity and a sense of sharing.
My opinion now is, and I may have to revise my judgment during or after next year's merkle season, that there comes a point at which a merkle hunter who is successful in his hunt is moved to what at least appears to be generosity, both in sharing his knowledge of places where the mushrooms do grow, and beyond that sharing what is found.
But that point is not easily defined or predicted. In the dealing with merkles, I believe, a person must reach a point like that of the ``critical mass'' of nuclear materials, when something drastic happens (explosion, in the case of nuclear mass), and ``truth and generosity'' in the case of the merkle hunter.
Next year's merkle season, I expect, will be different from this one, and from all that have gone before.
The merkle is actually the delectable mushroom known as the morel - Latin name Morchella.