It’s hard to know how to begin. That’s what beginning is. Not knowing, feeling it out. That’s how I got started in both fermentation and foraging–figuring out how to give myself over to a comfort with my own ignorance. To wander, meander, try things out, go deeper when something caught my attention. Don’t rush.
And now there’s this little business, with its incomplete website and its little blog. We’re making hot sauce, and I’ll write about that here. We’ll have an October brunch to promote the sauces and celebrate the season, and you’ll see a post about that as well. For now, I mostly want to convey my gratitude for a year that continues to astonish me in its abundance, from the perspective of a forager in south-central Wisconsin.
It’s a strange perspective to share, after torrential downpours have finally ceased, and the water in Madison is still flowing downhill toward the rising lakes. Peoples’ houses have been flooded. In the river valleys and creek watersheds across southern Wisconsin, whole towns are still drenched, and farms have been washed out. My experience of the hardship of it all has been secondhand and anecdotal, and that could make it easy to forget that, in some ways, it’s been a hard year around here (to say nothing of the hardships in the wider world).
At the same time, I see empathy, collaboration and community coming out of the flooding, in human and nonhuman communities. Our cities, with their expanding impermeable surfaces and profit-driven zoning, might not be able to handle it, but we can. So can the plants, fungi and wildlife. Waterlogged trees that have fallen will be converted by a massive flush of mushrooms (many of them edible or medicinal) into fertile ground. There’s an unusual amount of fresh green growth for the onset of autumn: new nettles, violets, wintercress and lamb’s quarters are spreading under the grasses. Berries have been incredibly abundant, large and sweet. Hickories, oaks and walnuts bend down, weighted with massive nuts and acorns.
I recently wandered over high ground in one of Madison’s many large city parks. Not really looking for anything in particular (which is usually, I find, the best way to forage), I stumbled across plenty of edible mushrooms, ripe black cherries, wild grapes, dandelion greens, highbush cranberries (the first time I’ve found the palatable species), varied crabapples, and far more American hazelnuts than I’ve found before.
That kind of bounty has characterized the whole growing season; even keeping my harvests to humble quantities, there’s been no way to keep up, especially as I’ve learned so much more about edibility and identification than in any season so far. Tons of salad and cooking greens, buckets of serviceberries and black caps, big baskets of morels and endless flushes of chantarelles, a whole section of forest full of hemlock reishi mushroom, herbs of all kinds… it just keeps coming.
As I learn more and gather more, I find myself fully inhabiting my body, my mind doing exactly what it evolved to do, noticing so much that used to be invisible. Noticing leads to caring about individual organisms, special tiny spots, and whole landscapes and ecosystems. Caring about leads to caring for. I aspire to find more ways to do that. I think I know how to begin.
Okay, that feels as awkward as a first post is bound to feel. Expect more (and better-written) general musings, as well as posts on particular plants and fungi, and the occasional bit of promotion.
Thanks for reading!