Updated: Jan 27, 2021
About a month ago, my husband and I made a little excursion into BC. We camped, biked, dropped into the local coffee shop - pretty typical stuff. But what set this trip apart, what really fired us up and is cemented into our joint memory, was our wild mushroom foray.
After studying a BC forest burn map, we biked a short (but painfully steep!) distance, then trekked up into a scorched landscape in search of the coveted morels we hoped would be fruiting there. I kept expectations low - it was our first go at this and I had my doubts we had gotten ourselves to the right place at the right moment in spring. So I was astonished, gleeful even, when we quickly spotted our first morel! Many more followed as we slowly picked our way up the slope, stepping over charred, fallen trees and around standing ones. Moving at that pace, scanning the ground constantly, and hearing the bird and insect life around us led to an immersion we rarely experience. We became intimate with the landscape in a way we couldn't have had we simply been hiking or biking through, let alone viewing it from a car window at highway speed.
A few hours later, we were thoroughly sooty and fatigued from the uphill, the bending, and the squatting. Back at our campsite, we proudly laid our haul out on the picnic table. We washed and strung morels like beads on necklaces to dry. And, of course, we sautéed some of them fresh, relishing them with the satisfaction that comes of having collected food with our own hands from its source. A button mushroom from the store could never compare - it would have no story (that we we'd be aware of), no relationship with our day or our place, and none of our own sweat expended.
The point of my story is this: When we visit a new place, we become more richly acquainted with it when we partake of its ecology through food. Of course, there's the important caveat that we partake only conscientiously. Some plants, animals, and fungi are important resources to Indigenous peoples of an area, are scarce, or reside in too delicate an ecology to collect. Certainly we don't want to bring an attitude of "exploit and consume" to our travels. So, we should do our research, talk to locals, and follow responsible practices*. But this act of digging deeper into the ecology and culture of a new place, even if foraging is deemed a no-go, brings a depth of understanding that often eludes a visitor.
After all, whether we're home or away, I think we really long to be full participants - humans participating as members of this Earth. If we participate, we absorb information from the plants, animals, weather, and processes of a place - we form a relationship. And it's our relationship with nature that is of fundamental importance. It informs everything from how healthy we feel in body and mind, to how we organize our economy, to how we perceive what it means to be human. So, ultimately, to cultivate that relationship is to help transform the way we conduct ourselves as a species on this planet - with the potential to be welcome, worthy members. It could start with a handful of morels!
*Some of the most basic best practices for foraging include:
-Know what a healthy population of the species you're collecting looks like. Is it abundant enough to support your harvest of it?
-Harvest only roughly 5-10% of any one species in an area
-Focus especially on harvesting non-native and invasive species
-Harvest only from spaces that are free of toxins and pesticides
-Forage only where permitted - eg.some public lands not under protection, or private lands with permission
-A more in-depth discussion on best practices can be found here: https://chestnutherbs.com/foraging-for-wild-edibles-and-herbs-sustainable-and-safe-gathering-practices/