A Rite of Spring

The qualities of a morel hunter: steady focus, dogged persistence, uncompromising integrity, and a love of the land. Admittedly, this might sound a little over-the-top, but when you consider the difficulty of finding morels in the wild, these qualities start to make sense. Over the past two springs, I have had the opportunity to learn what it takes to find these elusive mushrooms from a lifelong morel hunter, Keefe Real Estate’s CFO, Dennis Carnes.

Those close to Dennis know that his true passions are found in the rolling farmlands north of Lauderdale Lakes in Palmyra, WI. After balancing Keefe’s books, Dennis heads home for the weekend and starts his second job: farming 1,800 acres of corn, soy, wheat and alfalfa with his brother, Steve. But Dennis’ love for the land where he grew up and raised a family doesn’t stop with farming. It extends to the nooks and crannies, under the leaves and brush, where Dennis has foraged morels for decades.

The first year Dennis invited me to tag along, he handed me a mesh bag and pointed me towards a western facing slope, a prime spot for morels. As I tripped over branches, I saw a lot of leaves and twigs, but not a single morel. Always generous and looking for a teaching opportunity, Dennis invited to one of the many stashes he had uncovered to impart some of the subtle clues that might reveal a cluster of morels: look for a rotting Elm tree, but don’t confuse its bark with Ash; scan the ground carefully before stepping to avoid stomping on your prize; most importantly, don’t give up the search. Still, I couldn’t see the morels for the trees. Mercifully, Dennis sent me home with a handful of mushrooms that day, but not finding my own only stoked my desire to try again.

A year later, sometime around Mother’s Day, Dennis pulled me aside to let me know the hunt was on. This year, however, Dennis called in the big guns. On a perfect spring day, we met Dennis’ longtime friend, Trapper, at around 6AM in a field whose location I promised never to reveal, and set off into the woods. Feeling confident with one year under my belt, and with two experts nearby, I set into the woods with purpose and hope. Two hours later, we emerged with smiles on our faces. Although my sack was less than ¼ full compared to my fellow foragers, I could see the pride in Dennis’ eyes when he saw my haul.

We spread our prize on Trapper’s dropped tailgate to admire our harvest, enjoy the warming sun, and talk about the delicious meals to come. I was pleased and immensely grateful to Dennis for including me in this sacred rite of spring. The experience gave me a deeper appreciation and love for our land, was a refreshing reminder of the important values by which we strive to live and run our business, and most importantly, revealed another dimension of Dennis’ character.

As Dennis winds down his outstanding and accomplished 25 year career as Keefe’s CFO, I am comforted knowing that while we will miss his daily presence, he will spend more time doing what he loves: farming, hunting and enjoying his family and the land where he has spent his life.

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