I love mushrooms. I studied them. I eat them. Morels are one of my favorites. I head to the Metolius Recreation Area at least once, or twice, or maybe three times in the Spring in hopes of finding the elusive morel. I am an absolutely horrible morel hunter.
So, we were on our second trip out in the Spring of 2014. The first trip the week before had garnered us exactly five morels. But there had been a small amount of rain since then. So, we returned to the place where we had found the five morels, only to find absolutely none. I decided to take a different tack and went to an area that we had never gone before. We piled out of the car and started poking around between the lodgepole pine. I watched Preston and Ursus as they seemed to be following me, not Paul.
Oh, and Preston's shock collar did not work as the receiver had died and I couldn't afford a new one. Besides, I thought, he's 12 years old. He doesn't need that collar anymore because he won't run off too much anymore. I put the collar on him anyway, hoping that he might think that it worked.
Lo and behold! I spied a morel. Then another and more totaling to five. Yippee. I had already made what we had gotten last week. Since my mind was on the morels, I was only half keeping track of the dogs. At one point, I saw Ursus give a look like "hey! I know that guy!" Okay, that's a complete guess, but if you have a dog you know certain things about it and can anthropomorphize the rest. So, he took off running. Ursus gives a certain high-pitched excited bark when he is on the chase of a squirrel. Ursus did not make a noise this time, so I assumed that Ursus had seen Paul, who had gotten separated from us.
I kept looking around for mushrooms but I didn't find any more as I got further and further away from the car. At one point, I was completely turned around. It's amazing how that can happen even in a flat, relatively open area when you are looking on the ground all the time. I decided to head back to the car and tried to text Paul a message: "Are the dogs with you? I'm heading back to the car."
About 15 minutes later, Ursus came running up behind me. That was okay because, like Filbert had in the past, he often ran between his people when they were separated in the woods. I was about a football field's length away from the car when I saw that Paul was already there. Ursus saw him and immediately ran to him. As I got a bit closer, I yelled "Is Preston with you?" Paul indicated that he was right there. I breathed a sigh of relief. As I got closer, I didn't see Preston at all. When I reached Paul I realized that he had misunderstood and had indicated that Ursus was right there. Preston, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Uh-oh. Paul gave one of his annoyed sighs and went to get his sandwich for lunch. I called and called for Preston. Later, Paul called and called for Preston. But there was no Preston. We called for about a half hour and then gave up. By now, Preston had been gone for about an hour. There was no telling where he had gone.
At one point, Ursus once again did his "hey, I know that guy!" and ran off. I was sure he saw Preston, but it was a chipmunk. There was still no Preston.
I kept looking for morels since I was there anyway, and I found seven more. Preston was still not there. By now, two hours had past. I was getting really, really worried. The sky started getting grey. The wind picked up. A light rain started. At one point, we even heard a gunshot.
Paul suggested that he drive around to see if Preston was wandering around on one of the surrounding roads. He left me to wait. I sat there and conjured up all of the things that could happen to a dog out there: rattlesnakes, cougars, bears, cars, crazy people with guns. It was horrible. I sat there nearly in tears, but I kept telling myself that there really were a lot of people around and maybe one of them had picked him up. Since we were out of cell range, I wouldn't get the call if they had gotten him.
About a half hour later, Paul came back and said that there was no sighting of Preston but that he felt better because he had talked to a lot of people in the area and realized that we weren't really out in the wilderness exactly. Still, a lot could happen to an old dog by himself out in the middle of the forest.
Then it started really raining.
"What do you want to do?" Paul asked me.
"I don't know," I answered. I thought of driving the 15 miles into Sisters where there would certainly be cell coverage and spending the night there in case someone called. I thought of waiting right there until the middle of the night.
"Why don't you come with me and we can drive around more," Paul suggested. His sense of direction is pretty bad so he had only gone a little way on his own. I didn't want to leave the spot. Finally, I decided to do what I had heard that hunters do if their dog doesn't come back. I pulled off my inner-most shirt and laid it behind a large log near where we were parked.
"Why don't you put some treats on it, too," Paul suggested. So I did.
We left and drove around. Paul driving, me staring into the woods. We stumbled across some more mushroom hunters who hadn't seen Preston. We looked all over the nearby roads. Fortunately, there was no dead black dog on any of them.
After about another 45 minutes, we returned to the spot where we had been parked when Preston ran off. There was no Preston.
"Why don't you see if the treats are gone," Paul said and, as I was opening the passenger-side door, he looked in my rearview mirror. "By the way, there's your fucking dog now."
I turned around and, sure enough, there was Preston. Ambling rather slowly toward me. I went up to him, patted him on the head, and opened the back of the car for him to jump in. He did so a bit gingerly.
"Did he get the treats?" Paul asked. I went over to where I had left my shirt and nodded and grinned. The treats were gone, alright.
Paul went on and on about how he couldn't believe Preston found his way back. Did leaving the shirt there really tell him "I'll be back" as I had been told? I'll never know. But Preston had come out from under some bushes so he had decided to stay there for some reason.
Finally, I was hungry and could eat. I opened the cooler in the back of the car to get my sandwich and, like a cobra strike, Preston shot his head into the cooler and came out with one of the Greenies I had brought along for him and Ursus.
I was a bit horrified, but all I cared was that I had my dog back. One of the worst things possible would have been never knowing what had happened to him.
I gave the much more civilized Ursus his Greenie.
From then on, I vowed to keep him on a leash when we were anywhere other than Mac forest.
After using up four hours of mushroom hunting time waiting for my dog to show up, we decided to stop at another spot or two - leaving Preston IN THE CAR. At one, Ursus sat down. Sat down!!! Ursus NEVER sits down out in the woods. He was in his prime as a 6.5-year-old Aussie. I walked over to him and could see that he was drooling. Drool strings were flowing down and connecting like a little bonnet tie beneath his chin. This also, was very unusual.
We found no more morels and, to be honest, we were a bit exhausted by the Preston saga. We left the Metolius at about 5:15. On the way home, Ursus took his usual spot between the seats. He was still drooling.
We finally reached home and, when Ursus was fed, he tried to eat but couldn't. Now things were getting serious. My grandmother had always said, no matter how sick the dog was "as long as it's eating, it's okay." Paul and I both turned to the internet to look up "drooling." Of course, there was a ton of reasons, including poison or toxic plants. Paul finally conceded to taking Ursus to the veterinarian.
Of course, it was after hours and an emergency visit (fortunately our town actually HAS a 24-hour emergency vet clinic). We seemed to be the only ones there, but it turned out that the vet was in the middle of surgery. So we waited. Finally, we got in. They took all his vitals. He was fine. The vet looked at him, opened his mouth and discovered sores inside of his mouth.
"Chipmunk," she said. A chipmunk! No poison. No toxic plants. A chipmunk had fought back. I bet anything, Ursus let the chipmunk go.
So, we could now also make fun of Ursus being beaten up by a chipmunk.
So, $100 for the vet, $45 for the gas, almost losing Preston forever...we collected exactly 10 morels.
Market of Choice sells them for $39.99 a pound.