We navigate with memory's longitude

When one of us comes in from a walk with a sighting to share, it is important for the other to picture exactly where on our 80 acres it had taken place.

Today I told Charlie how I'd inadvertently flushed a turkey hen from her grassy repose on the back pasture and had only to add "from the high spot" to apprise him of the very patch of ground - just a swell of elevation, really, on a 20-acre field - that she'd vacated with a startled, powerful whoosh of her wings. It's the same place where Charlie stood in the dew and sunlight early one morning and, in tribute to the jeweled expanse about him, emptied the coins from his pockets in a wide arcing spray of copper, nickel, and silver - pale replicas, all. I admit to glancing down at times as I walk over the spot. I've never found any of those coins.

Such places, whether or not they'd stand out to anyone else, spatially define the farm for us. Describing where something new took place in reference to them is not a matter of contour lines or map coordinates but of deep familiarity with the lay of the land and our history on it.

The spring, the seep, the twin poplars, the cabin, the hut, Tim's tree fort (built in his younger days), the "S" curve in the creek - some are obvious on local survey maps, some not. In the "not" category are the cows' fording place over the creek, Hannah's calving bower, Bonnie's grave, the buttercup path, the lightning-struck sycamore. Yet each communicates precisely where we mean when we speak to one another about what we have seen on our rambles. And there are enough such personal coordinates on the farm that it never takes long to pinpoint a spot.

Until we come to morel season. Last year Charlie, out on a solitary hunt, hit the jackpot.

"Where did you find those?" I asked bug eyed at the bounty on the kitchen counter - huge, fist-sized delicacies that we could decadently fry up ourselves or sell for $20 a pound to local delis. Here was enough to satisfy both impulses. But Charlie was maddeningly, coyly mum, even though he could have told me exactly where he'd come upon the beauties - by John's gate, perhaps, or down in the brambly thicket where Nellie had her last heifer. At the site of the old pioneer's cabin, where we'd dug up bits of a child's tea set and a couple of 19th-century coins? (Perhaps our predecessor on the farm answered an impulse akin to Charlie's one fine morning.) Even a hint - an arm waved in the direction of some hedgerow or fenceline (always a good place to look for mushrooms) would have satisfied me, primed me for this year's hunt.

In the end, I had to content myself with the knowledge that they were out there somewhere last May and might resurface in just as heady profusion in the same place this month. (But maybe not - that, and the variable timing of the morels' emergence is what makes it a hunt year after year.) And just maybe I'll find them before Charlie gets to them this year.

I was trying to do just that when I came across the turkey hen and, to set a good example, told Charlie exactly where she'd been.

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