Keeler's heroes 

Under heavy fire, a misfit unit captures mongo 'shrooms

I'm pretty sure the gunfire is a coincidence, so I slip back through the fence and start bagging more grapefruit-sized morels. It's too bad these springs feeding the Gallatin River aren't below the high-water mark and in the public domain, since springs are where I usually find morels—dotting the glades between cottonwood deadfall like tan ostrich eggs. I'm just about to lay my hands on one the size and shape of a human brain when I hear two more shots and hurl myself back through the fence, tearing my hip waders on a barb.

Hmmm, the shooting stops when I'm on the river side of the fence, then starts when I'm on the mondo morel side of the fence. Perhaps there is a connection. Perhaps I should quit while the quittin's good. Perhaps not.

Once again, I slip through the fence and make a mad dash for a clump of fat ones popping up by a lightning-fried stump, but I only make it half way because I've tripped over a fawn sleeping in the high grass. It looks up at me in horror with its huge Bambi eyes, my mojo fizzles, and I back apologetically toward the fence. I can handle a little gunfire, but I'd croak if I crippled a fawn.

click to enlarge GREG KEELER
  • Greg Keeler

Lugging my bags to the truck, I think back to last spring when I canoed for mushrooms on the Yellowstone with Doug and Andrea Peacock. We usually didn't worry about getting shot at because much of the time we stuck to the islands, figuring they were public domain, but even there we would hear the occasional pop. In those instances, the merry patter of gunfire would inspire Doug to reminisce about Vietnam, sending him into combat mode and create in him a longing for a weapon of his own. Deprived of such an option, he would become a soundless blur, passing behind willow thickets and moving with such alacrity that I found it difficult to understand how his bag could fill with mushrooms when I never saw him stoop to pick them. When we arrived at the canoe, Andrea would have it ready to go, like the driver in a bank heist, and we'd be off to the next island.

In late May, we came across so many fawns that Doug and I temporarily lost our Bambiphobia and fantasized about how tender and tasty they might be, tossed guts hide and all into a deep fat turkey fryer and served up on a bed of hot, buttered mushrooms—though Andrea's icy gaze would soon return us to more eco-friendly topics, like chanterelle and boletus mushrooms.

We pursued those the year before, from late June through early September, dodging lightning strikes and slogging through marshes in the Gallatin Range. Up there, the gunfire had a slightly different ring to it. Because we were in a national forest, we knew there was no irate landowner behind it and that it was most likely just some guy sighting in his rifle. But the accompanying splinter of twigs in the pines above us offered little consolation, so we assumed a low profile between old firefighting berms while we rooted in the moss and stuffed our bags.

Chanterelles look something like orange circus peanut candy and are about the same color as the pieces of clay pigeons scattered around some of the most productive mushroom spots, so between the lightning strikes, the shooting, the splintering, the trenches, and the shattered orange targets, I sometimes figured it wasn't much of a stretch for Doug to start thinking Tet. Once, he left me and Andrea rummaging through the duff after chanterelles and started briskly skirting the perimeter of the hillside, disappearing and reappearing like a phantom. I got a little concerned, but Andrea (who always picked the most mushrooms) seemed to be taking it in stride.

"He okay?"

"Yeah."

"He armed?"

"You can ask him. He's right behind you."

After I finished crapping myself, I noticed that he had crammed two bags full of boletes. By crammed, I mean four or five per bag. They're huge.

"I think I got 'em all," said Doug. "Let's go, before that idiot shoots us."

Now that I'm back in my truck here on the Gallatin, I can see a pickup out in the field near the fence where I was picking and wonder if the rancher is down there in the cottonwoods gunning for me. If so, I hope he doesn't step on the fawn.

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