Don Sorchych My View

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My Sister Jeane, who lives in Black Earth, Wisconsin, often sends clippings from newspapers that cover our childhood home of Depue, Illinois. Much of the news covers the lawsuits filed by Depue demanding the town Superfund site caused by a zinc refinery be cleaned up.

But as a community newspaper they cover things like the latest Morel mushroom find, always with pictures. Morels are virtually unmistakable since they look exactly like a sponge and have a short growing season of a few weeks. They often grow around the root system of dead or dying Elm trees.

Foraging for them has become so popular that farm property is often ringed with “No mushroom hunting” signs while some property owners sell leases for mushroom hunting.
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Not only are they delicious, but expensive, and many hunters sell their bags and buckets of Morels for as much as $20 per pound.

When my middle sister Betty was still alive we had family reunions at her home in Henry, Illinois (best town in Illinois by a dam site). The day was spent hunting for Morels and then feasting on them.

Since Morel mushroom hunters are notoriously secretive we were fortunate we had two cousins, Doc and Lyle Hall, who guided us to Morel rich areas.

The recipe? Split and wash mushrooms, dry, roll in egg batter then cracker crumbs and sauté. There were never leftovers.

The Morel season also paralleled wild asparagus season and, although rare, they too were delicious and part of the menu, when found.

Before I joined the navy, while squirrel hunting I noted a swale surrounded by planted fields which had a dozen trees that had been ringed to kill them so they could be cut down and removed. The trees were all elms. I asked the farmer if I could return the next year to seek mushrooms and he said help yourself.

I went there the next year and it was Morel heaven; you could not walk without stepping on a Morel. I took bushels out of there and shared them with everyone I knew including the landowner. The next year I was in the navy but told a friend who reaped Morels by the bushel until the farmer cut down the trees and planted crops.

Shari Jo and I joined a mushroom club a few years ago but extended droughts made for few outings. We are told Morels grow to the north but few people who find them ever share locations.

A recent newspaper clipping discussed the formation of a committee to rehabilitate the Illinois Hennepin Canal. The canal extends from the Rock River in northern Illinois to the Illinois River at Bureau, Illinois only five miles from Depue.

The canal was intended to provide a waterway between the Illinois River and the Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois. Although planning began in 1831 construction didn’t start until 1890 and finished in 1907.

The 95-mile canal failed to compete with railroads and closed in 1951. But barge traffic was a sight to see when it was active. When I was about ten I was invited to go camping near the canal where an aqueduct allowed a creek to run under the canal. When a barge passed by, water cascaded down, creating a waterfall and shower. Swimming and fishing there was excellent.

After the canal was closed to barge traffic, locks and the earth dam that held water developed leaks, but fortunately repairs were made and the canal became a recreation area as it is today.

While still in high school I hunted, fished and trapped the area near the canal. Busloads of people came from Chicago to camp and fish near locks 1, 2 and 3 in Bureau, Illinois. Other towns developed along the canal. President Ronald Reagan learned to swim in the canal, near Tampico.

Today, the 96-mile-long Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park provides a recreational paradise to 750,000 visitors annually. I wonder if it is the game and fish paradise it once was.

On our last visit a year ago, Shari Jo, my sister Jeane and I went on a search for lock one, where the canal enters the Illinois river. In my youth it was the most popular area and we often swam or fished there. We found locks two and three but couldn’t find lock one. A gentleman along the road told us access to lock one had been obliterated. How sad is that?

While there we decided to look for Walnut Grove near Henry, Illinois. My Uncle Ed, Aunt Inez and their daughters Peggy and Lois spent summers there renting out boats, selling bait and soft drinks. Walnut Grove fronted Lake Senachwine and was a lovely park setting with massive black walnut trees everywhere. It was ringed with cottages where people spent their summers.

The one summer I spent there was unforgettable. My cousins and I seined for minnows to sell to fisherman and spent each day in swimming suits.

My Uncle Ed was a World War I veteran who lost a lung to mustard gas. He was told by a military doctor he should always have an outside job, and he did.

His summers were spent at Walnut grove, mostly as an emissary while his wife tended to boat rentals, bait sales, etc.

In the fall he took out duck hunters mostly from Chicago. These were his happiest days wearing khakis and hip boots and carrying a huge roll of bills in his pocket. He hunted on both owned and leased land. He was an excellent duck caller and a dead eye shooter as were his sons.

In the winter he ran trap lines for muskrats and mink. Sometimes I helped him build duck blinds for the next year’s season.

Ed, due to his war experiences, was a little strange. It didn’t take much encouragement for him to break into patriotic songs, like “Over there …” But he was a kind man who mangled English admirably, which added to family recollections of him. His legendary expression was often mentioned in the family. After he fell from a tree he called the experience a “feeling sensation.”