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Last Saturday morning my husband walked into our kitchen and announced, “We have the strangest looking mushrooms in the window well downstairs.”

It is true this is no ordinary window well. My husband created a very lush garden where fauna thrive as well as our adopted pet toad, Patience, who has lived there for the last five years. When I hear about mushrooms these days I have two reactions. One is my association with the healing power of psychedelics. And the second is complete fear that any of us could ingest a mushroom that could prove fatal.

Priscilla Dann-Courtney
Priscilla Dann-Courtney

Our mushroom education began as we googled, compared our photos to the internet, read mycologist articles, and emailed friends and family in search of answers. Who and what are these fascinating-looking fungi? We narrowed in on what some call the “sacred mushroom,” the “miracle” mushroom, or the prized morel mushroom, a species of the Morchella genus. They are so coveted that the harvesting of them has become a multi-million dollar industry. And they are considered one of the tastiest mushrooms on the planet, matching the well-known truffle. Foragers spend days and weeks hunting for the elusive morel.

The chance that we might have pure gold in our window well was appearing slim. They typically thrive in wet forested areas at higher altitudes, sometimes under fallen trees and even in heavily burned environments. They do however grow in Colorado in moderation and are harvested in the spring. Late July in a window well was not in the literature. But our quest and curiosity were not to be curtailed. If they truly are miraculous and sacred mushrooms, magic could happen, even in a window well. One self-proclaimed expert wrote back, “stay clear, they look like a dangerously poisonous species!”

We certainly had no plans to sauté until our thorough research had been conducted and finalized. The sense of community that has been built around such little beings is heartwarming. We consulted chefs in neighborhood restaurants, gardeners, mushroom lovers, scientists and kind friends and family. For once it wasn’t a disaster like a fire, shooting, or flood that built community but just sweet joy and curiosity about small fungi. The “piece de resistance” (in honor of French chefs who celebrate morels) was a trip to the Boulder Farmer’s Market to consult an expert, the lovely mushroom vendor who shares a plethora of beautiful, colorful and wide variety of their homegrown, organic, mushrooms. The excitement was contagious among market customers as she smiled and confirmed they were the real deal!

To us, they actually have become our version of “magic shrooms.” It wasn’t a trip on psychedelics but it was an enlightening journey. My husband likes to believe it is because he meditates near where they thrive. I now understand why they might be called the “sacred mushroom.” There is a message they bring to us. My daughter described our quest as such a nice distraction from so many challenges these days. But I prefer to look at them as the main act. They brought us community, laughter and childlike curiosity. The earth became our teacher, we her students. We did sauté these delicate pearls in butter, a mindful sweet and tasty moment. A few swallows, but soon gone. As with most things, morels remind us of impermanence. However, we do hope they return next year. The story in itself brought such pleasure to our lips — the main ingredient being the journey with others. Like the Wizard of Oz, one never has to look too far to find magic and beauty. The emerald is often just outside our window.

Priscilla Dann-Courtney may be reached through her website at: