Last week I dreamed that I couldn’t find my classroom. It was the first day of the semester, and there I was, rushing around, without a clue where this lecture hall was located. I knew I was going to be late, and wondered how embarrassing it would be to enter the room with the class under way.
It’s a common anxiety dream. That plot along with dreams about being chased, falling or discovering missing teeth. Probably most of us are having those dreams.
Life in 2020 is a lot like the plot of a science fiction movie: Mysterious virus marches across the world that halts, the stock market crashes, millions lose their jobs as humanity hunkers down to hide from a dreaded bogeyman. In this case the bogey is way more than the virus. He’s fear, paranoia, and the loss of control that all came crashing down on Friday the 13th. Hollywood couldn’t devise such a cheesy plot.
The week prior, I sensed something was awry. I and a host of others found myself at Wal-Mart, cruising the pharmacy aisles. I stopped a store clerk to ask for hand sanitizer and wipes. She gave me an incredulous look until she searched the opened carton on her cart. One 20-ounce bottle left. “It’s the last one in the store,” she said.
I bought it.
In hindsight (no pun intended) I should have snapped up some toilet paper too.
I never envisioned myself wearing latex gloves while pushing a shopping cart, but germophobia has taken over. Is Covid 19 on the door handle? How about the canned goods? The credit card reader?
I get more anxious seeing the “missing teeth” of the empty paper goods shelves, the absence of cleaning products, the vacant egg cooler. It’s a taste of what life must be in Cuba or Venezuela, where shopping is a game of strategy.
Days tend to run together with no rhythm of a normal week—no eating out Friday night, no shopping on Saturday, no Sunday services. It’s no longer necessary to check the calendar because there are no meetings to miss or gatherings to attend.
And then, something delightfully unexpected happens.
This past Saturday I came upon a four-inch morel mushroom in my flower bed. I gasped. Morels, one of the few edible wild mushrooms, are more than rare. I grabbed my phone and took a picture.
That specimen was one of maybe a handful I’ve ever found, which is a pitiful admission for someone who grew up in morel country–Shelby County, Illinois–where they host a morel festival each April, at least until this year.
It took me back to my days as a reporter for the Shelbyville Daily Union. Shelbyville, it was a mushroom culture maintained by bragging rights and closely guarded secrets. The parade of morel mushrooms into the newspaper office was a rite of spring—who could find the biggest morel, the smallest, the most in one patch—all collected from lucky wooded spots known only to the hunter who expected a photo and coverage in the local news section.
Science has ever figured out how to raise morels commercially. Whoever does it will be wealthy indeed. A pound of fresh morels fetches as much as $90.
Saturday I put my prized shroom in the refrigerator. On Sunday morning I split the handsome morel in half, dipped it in egg and milk, then a bit of flour; sprinkled it with a bit of salt and pepper and fried it up.
For all the fuss about morel mushrooms, I admit that this one didn’t taste like much. To be honest, they never have. Morels are all about longing and deprivation. The rarer the find, the greater the prize.
As humans, we crave something more when we can’t get it, and we have a lot of can’t-get-its these days. I didn’t go hunting mushrooms; it happened to find me, nested there in the hosta lilies as a reminder from my past, a double dare to stop and savor what’s left of the ordinary.