I seem to have spent my life tromping around the woods with a badly behaved dog by my side.
The other day we were all arguing about what we were going to go do. Some of us wanted to go swimming, others needed to work and one, rather stubborn little boy quite didn't know what he wanted. After running through a list of just about every activity I could think of, I asked him to lay down with me, close his eyes and imagine what his best day would look like. Where would he go? What would he do? Who would be with him? What would he eat?
After a few minutes of silence, I asked him what he had been thinking of. As it turned out, his perfect day involved watching Netflix in bed alone eating crisps in his pants...not quite the wholesome activity I had been hoping for. We laughed and then he asked me what I had been dreaming about. I told him that what I most wanted to do that day was to wander in the woods with my dog and a basket, foraging for dinner.
For as long as I can remember, rambling through the woods with a badly behaved canine at my side has been my happy place. The dogs have changed, as have the woods and what I am looking for, but the essence of the activity has remained the same. One of my favourite memories of my childhood summers was that my mother sliding the glass back door closed and sending us into the woods for the day. My Scottish Terrier, Snickers, and I would head out into the woods with a small flower identification book and I would spend my day searching for flowers to classify then press in the pages of my book before Snickers would tear away towards the road to chase some unknown (and probably squirrel shaped) threat.
There is something deeply meditative about focusing wholly on one thing - whether it be looking for North American wildflowers, small yellow mushrooms unfurling on the ground, scanning the hedgerow for berries at exactly the right shade of red or purple, gathering up the greens that add an extra bite to a salad or reaching into the trees to compete with the birds for the juiciest berries. Foraging requires a special kind of focus, not dissimilar to those magic eye pictures where if you look at it correctly a sailboat appears out of the jumbled mess of colour, but in the case of foraging, it is the infinitely more useful dinner that appears.
I have come to recognise that this is my kind of meditation. Where apps and guided audio fail me, walking out in the woods helps quiet my mind and ground me fully in where I am, the season we are in and the nuances of my surroundings. As someone who struggles to "do nothing" the productivity of gathering items that can be of use in our kitchen, medicine cabinet and dye pots helps me to justify this precious act of self care in a way that I probably wouldn't without that utilitarian aspect. Step by step, through the woods, always watchful of my surroundings...
Until the dog runs away towards the road, of course. Because some things never change.
Some of the things we are foraging at the moment:
- Blaeberries (also known as Bilberries or Huckleberries)
- Fat Hen
My favourite foraging book is Food for Free by Richard Maybey.
We have a couple of spots left on our August Wild Kitchen course as well, if you want to trop around the woods here with me (badly behaved dog will be staying home).