Friday, May 6, 2011

Foraging for Morels

Thorns are everywhere: clutching at our clothes, piercing our skin. Emma cries out as she slips,and we hurry to guide her to a safer patch. High in the Midwestern forest, echoing spring birdsong sounds almost like a tropical rainforest. The air is rain-fresh, pungent with last year’s decay.

“Step slowly,” I instruct my Kenny. “You don’t want to crush any.”

“Where are they?” he asks impatiently, greedily searching the ground.

Silently and rather boastfully, I point directly in front of him to where he had been staring. “Damn, those really are hard to see!” he exclaims.

We are searching for morels, the elusive little delicacies that locals talk about every year. I’ve read about them, lusted after them, but never had enough confidence to suppose that I could be lucky enough to find them . . . until today. Watching my Emma and Chloe play, I casually glanced at the ground and froze. Although I had never even seen a picture of a true morel, I knew that was it. I grabbed a few to reference check at home.

Is there a native instinct at play here? Perhaps we are not so far removed from our survival skills as we thought, because a knowledge that I never learned pointed to the mysterious mushroom in the woods and said that it was ok. Perhaps all we are missing is that intimate connection with the land, that relationship that lets us know how she is breathing, living, and growing.

We spent the evening gathering a basket of wild mushrooms, highlighted by my accidental discovery of a patch of asparagus. The thrill of finding foodmade us childishly giddy, the accomplishment heightened by the realization of our growing awareness of the world around us.

Foraging for the first time showed me a joyous side to the life I’d started to doubt. Working from home, raising food, and learning the land are all lonely jobs and had combined to make me second-guess what life is. Is it staying busy all the time, accomplishing something every hour, money money money . . . or is it learning to live, in every sense of the word? Learning how to live without a paycheck to buy every need or want, how to eat without a grocery store or magazine or expensive diet directing each choice, how to know the earth intimately -- how she breathes, grows, and dies? Are these not skills that are sadly undervalued today?

One night of foraging opened my eyes to the possibilities hidden in the underbrush. Now, I look for treasures: wild ramp, onions, asparagus, greens, mushrooms, and of course ginseng. My prior lack of observance has been replaced by the knowledge of a food world I have never even come close to entering . . . the most natural food world there is.

And what great memories: Emma's excited "Mommy, look!" when she finds a whole patch by herself.

Learning how to forage probably won’t change my life, but maybe it will. One thing I learned is that despite our modern wide-reaching capabilities, the world can still surprise us at times.

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