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About Applegater. (Jacksonville, OR) 2008-current | View Entire Issue (May 1, 2021)
Applegater Spring 2021
The maddening search for morels
BY CHRISTINA AMMON
It’s a sign of the season each spring
when, at the end of my dirt road,
mushroom buyers park their pickup
trucks, set up their scales, and wait for the
pickers to arrive. They are in the market
for the coveted morel mushroom, which is
prized by chefs for its deep, butter-holding
cavities and meaty, umami flavor. They
can’t be easily cultivated, so are mainly
gathered, and since I see the hunters
hauling bags to the scales, I assume the
surrounding hills must be abundant.
Last year, I decided to hunt for some
myself. I know that my travels have
always been enhanced by a quest. During
a layover in Frankfurt, I sought out
the house of Goethe. In Marrakech, I
scoured the medina for nutmeg during a
time when there was a shortage, and last
year in Mexico, I wandered the old town
looking for the perfect pair of flip-flops.
A good quest winnows this chaotic world
down to a simple search image and infuses
your otherwise random wanderings with
purpose. Perhaps morel hunting would
enhance my daily hikes in the same way.
I waited for the right weather sequence
to arrive—a few wet days followed
by sunshine—and then set off in the
mornings, full of a first-cup-of-coffee
optimism. My eyes were keen and
searching, and the dog seemed to love
my new slow hiking style—we moved
across the land at sniffing-speed, and he
nosed every bush and tree stump. I liked
it too—the way it heightened my attention
to detail and stilled me in the sharp light
of early morning. We’d wander until my
pant cuffs were soaked with forest dew and
my stomach growled for breakfast. I didn’t
find a single morel.
“Morels are everywhere but impossible
to find,” a saying goes. My friend Malu said
she wondered if they really even existed. It
longer enjoy a walk in the woods
because I was now too obsessed
with looking at the ground in fear
of missing a morel.
At one point my friend
Caroline sent me a text: I found
was clear from
nearly two pounds of morels!
the buyers on
She went out with some old-
my road that
timers, and they had a perfect
they did, but
day of mushroom hunting. She
generously brought some over to
my house to share. Each bite was
proof that they exist.
their spots. I
The day grew hot, the land
drier. The likelihood of finding
morels diminished by the minute.
The quest for the morel can “You know you can just buy them
off Amazon,” a neighbor told me
to put in
lend purpose to one’s walk.
Illustration: Christina Ammon. when we crossed paths on the
road. But, of course, this would
or just get
ruin the mystique of this Oregon
I’d like to say I don’t mind—that the pursuit. I’d have to resume my search the
thrill of the hunt is enough. And for a following year, which was fine by me. I
while, this was true. But as poison oak was ready to raise up my head and start
rashes began to irritate my arms and ankles enjoying hikes again.
and as I found myself disoriented more
than once, frustration set in. I could no
Pacific lampreys: Intrepid, misunderstood travelers
need some help getting past upstream obstacles
BY NATHAN GEHRES
The Pacific Lamprey is an often
sadly misunderstood fish. Here in the
Northwest, lampreys are often referred
to as “eels,” which they are not. Some
people have the mistaken impression that
the lamprey is a harmful invasive parasite
or pest, but this could not be further
from the truth. While the Atlantic Sea
Lamprey became an invasive species in the
Great Lakes, that is not the case with our
native lamprey. In fact, Pacific Lamprey
are an important ecological and cultural
component in coastal rivers from Japan to
Baja California. Rich in nutrients, Pacific
Lamprey is also a sought-after food for
all sorts of wildlife, as well as for many
These ancient creatures lack the jaws,
scales, and paired fins of the typical fish.
They even lack a substantial internal
skeleton. Most famous for their round,
sucker-like mouth filled with teeth, adult
Pacific Lampreys may cause trepidation in
those that peer into their maws, but they
pose no threat to humans.
Like salmon, Pacific Lamprey are
anadromous, meaning they start life in
fresh water, migrate to the ocean as adults,
and return to freshwater streams to spawn.
Larval lamprey, known as ammocoetes,
have no eyes or teeth, burrow into
streambeds after hatching, and are filter
feeders, cleaning the water. These “larvae”
remain in freshwater for up to seven years,
growing to the size of a pencil. Then they
develop eyes, teeth, and a sucker mouth
before riding rising river flows out into the
ocean in late fall or early spring. They stay
in the ocean one to three years and grow
up to two feet in length.
Lampreys have been found at depths
of 2,600 feet and feed parasitically on a
wide array of fishes and even whales, but
we really don’t know much about their life
at sea. After adults return to freshwater
(February-June), they migrate upstream
but live in the river for about a year before
spawning. During this time, adults go on
a crash diet, stop eating, and lose about 25
percent of their size.
Lampreys can swim efficiently, but they
are not fast, and they can’t jump. Instead,
they climb up cascades, waterfalls, and
other obstacles using only their mouths.
Nevertheless, they historically migrated
as far inland as Idaho. Spawning adults do
not necessarily return to the stream where
they hatched. Both sexes help with nest
construction (March-June), using their
mouths to move small rocks and forming
a shallow bowl in the streambed.
Like salmon, lamprey die after
spawning. The remains of spawned-
out lampreys add nutrients to streams,
supporting their young and everything
else living there.
The populations of Pacific Lamprey are
declining. Many factors have led to this sad
situation, but perhaps the biggest obstacle
to lamprey population growth is just that:
obstacles—barriers that they cannot get
past. In the natural world lampreys often
climb past cascades and waterfalls that
block even salmonids, following smooth
wetted surfaces. Unfortunately, since
lampreys climb using their sucker-like
mouths, they have difficulties moving past
simple 90-degree lips or corners, u-shaped
channels, or dry walls, all of which are
commonly found on dams, weirs, and
even fish ladders.
Passage improvement project
The Applegate Partnership and
Watershed Council (APWC) has initiated
a lamprey passage improvement
project with Stewart Reid, PhD, a
local lamprey biologist. The focus is
to mitigate passage issues at six dam
sites in the Applegate Valley. Fixes
that allow lamprey to pass barriers
are often surprisingly simple and
inexpensive and do not impede
function of the structure.
Pacific Lamprey are amazing
animals that provide multiple
benefits to rivers in which they live.
They clean the water when young,
then cycle oceanic nutrients back
through those same streams when
they die after spawning and provide
a rich food source for many animals
during all life stages.
Salmon are venerated for
marathon migrations, but lamprey,
which can migrate even farther
using their unique climbing ability,
are often held in low esteem. These
maligned and misunderstood
animals deserve better, and it is
my hope that we are beginning to
recognize that in the Applegate.
Nathan Gehres, Staff Member
Applegate Partnership and
Irrigation diversions with sharp angles,
like this one on Murphy Dam
on the Applegate River,
are difficult for lampreys
to climb and are candidates for
lamprey passage improvements.
Photo: APWC staff.
A Pacific lamprey climbs a concrete water diversion. Photo: Stewart Reid.