Redbuds are blooming along the stream, as if a massive brush dipped in fuchsia has painted its banks. Dogwood flowers are scant and tinged with a fresh yellow green. The curtains have fallen on the trout lily, but wake robin is subtly beautiful in its second week since debut. A gentle shower whispers through the cedars without reaching my skin before disappearing as quickly as it arrived. The streams are full and audible before they are visible

My mission on this day is two-fold, or should I say three? I suppose my first objective is to spend the morning enjoying the blooming, greening, trickling, sprinkling, and singing Ozark forest. To this end I will no doubt be successful. The latter two goals are significantly less certain. My aim is to return from the outing with a few months worth of poultry and a few days worth of fine fungus. The wild turkey and the morel mushroom are very different organisms indeed, although not entirely incomparable. Both organisms use DNA to pass information from one generation to the next, both have complex cells with organelles to carry out all necessary metabolic functions, both rely on external sources of food unlike plants, and both have danced across my dreams and waking mind for the week preceding my outing. Perhaps more importantly, however, both rely on water for reproduction, acquiring food, and survival.

Many fungi, like the morel, lie beneath the surface of the forest floor through much of the year. Root like fibers reach into the soil weaving an intricate spider web that digests organic materials and absorbs the nutrients that are released. Only in ideal conditions will the mushroom rise above the leaf litter; when rain is abundant, and temperatures are warming. The mushroom is often thought to be the fungus itself. While the mushroom is part of the fungus, it is more analogous to a fruit on a tree, rather than a branch. The purpose of the mushroom is to gain altitude above the forest floor and release spores into its environment, propagating itself. It is not a reach too far to suggest that a tom turkey, donning the most elaborate black and iridescent plumage of the year is akin to its fungi brethren. Rising above the rest of the population, the dominant male has only one purpose ingrained for this season, propagation. In each instance, efforts can be heightened or diminished by the amount of rainfall. If rain is overly abundant, hatchling mortality is higher in the turkey’s low-lying nest. If the rainfall is low, morels won’t come out in high numbers.

Clean water maintains and moves healthy cells in an organism. Like us, the organisms of the forest require water to grow and survive; turkeys and morels are no exception. These two rely heavily on water for their food as well. Fungi will have difficulty growing though compacted dry soil to acquire food. Damp soil allows there form to expand easier and make their digestive enzymes more mobile and effective. Turkeys also benefit from good spring rain; their food sources depend on it. In spring and summer the birds forge on insects and green plant material, but their fall and winter reserves are already in the making. Acorns and other hard mast provide much needed nutrition through lean months, and the relative abundance depends on the rains of spring.

My watch tells me it is time to turn around if I want to make it back by lunch. My legs wonder why I didn’t turn back sooner, tired beneath the weight of this winter’s advanced calorie storage. A grey tree frog calls from a nearby tree, perhaps excited by the threat of rain. I find it awful late in the day, and terribly far from the creek at the bottom of the ridge for a diminutive wet-skinned critter; he continues to sing despite my bemusement. As I descend, the chattering stream below invokes images of water, free and clear, good to drink. My guts have long lost the ability to handle the critters that enjoy the stream, but the watershed is beautiful and the water is clear and cold. Whether it is pure or not, I decide best not to test. I find my car with goals two and three unchecked. My hands are empty, but I am certainly not leaving empty handed. Beautiful sights and sounds carry me home, and contemplations inspired by the wind through the trees and the crunch of leaves underfoot take the roll of fuel for an enjoyable writing session. Thanks for reading.

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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