Like the lichen


forest floor

gummy fungus


Yesterday, as is my favorite way to do, we spent the morning out in the woods with a sweet group of kids we share some cooperative homeschooling time with.  The children did a small bit of collecting and identifying, but we also just let them be free in the woods without a lot of heavy handed instruction, because that is pretty important too.  They ran and explored and enjoyed themselves so much.  That kind of joy doesn’t always translate to a fascination with the what and why of lichens or the function of fungus in the forest, but that is okay.  I always try not to push that part of it anyways, I really believe (and constantly experience) that children learn an awful lot by osmosis.

But that doesn’t mean that I personally wasn’t enthralled with just that as we walked yesterday.  Depending on the time of year and the mood of the person, there is always something to learn out there in the wild.  Everywhere I looked yesterday there were so many different kinds of mushroom–from the standard fare to the most teeny tiny things to blobs of orange goo–and so many beautiful and intriguing lichens.  I was caught up with thoughts of all those mushroom so quietly regenerating that space we roamed.  And all that lichen, mysterious works of art each with a story to tell about how fresh the air was that I was breathing or about the medicine I could make from them if instead I was having trouble breathing.  Amazing.

And the whole thing got me thinking about something I was already thinking a lot about–the process of breaking down the old and dead parts of ourselves, the process of personal regeneration.  My forest looks a lot like those winter woods right now.  A lot of what is growing is helping me decompose my own broken branches, providing fodder for new growth.  It feels silly, in many ways, to talk about; but god, it feels good.

Who knew (even though we should know) that we keep going through this process our whole lives?

It only makes sense, looking closely.  In all things, aren’t we mirrors of it all?  Mirrors of nature, mirrors of each other.  Mimesis, that great Greek word, has been argued by some to make for a lesser version of things, a lesser authenticity, but I see it as the parallel expression, over and over again, of all that is in this world, inside of us.

In our art, in our lives as they unfold, in the small ecosystem transpiring on the forest floor, in the large world of our heart.

There is something breath-y about the way lichen hang from trees.  Did you know that each lichen is both fungus and algae?  I didn’t until yesterday, my own exploration of the field guide answered that question.   Two organisms living as one.

We are much the same.  When our lives are balanced just so, we grow.  We re-present, like the lichen in nature, that all is well in this world.

Searching and finding. I’m grateful for the trees.

Last week, we headed up to the hills to search out some chantrelle mushrooms.  We found a small handful, nothing to write home about like in other years, but the colors of the woods and the beautiful weather that day, so nice!

Even though we are a group that gets out of doors plenty, we don’t really get out into the woods nearly as often as we would like.  That dreaded word–busy–seems to so often trump most days.  But not as many days at this time of the year, and learning that balance just won’t look the same in the thick of summer as it does in the fall and winter is a good lesson.  Seeing the whole cycle, I see that there is a balance to that busy, and that is good.

But, as great as getting outside is in general, the power of the forest is still its own magical thing.

Depending on their age, the kids “feel” different things when we first get into it.  Sometimes they enter with the general happy to be out in nature attitude of the very small, or with the wild to be in the wild feeling of the older and rambunctious young boy; but sometimes, for certain among them, they have this period where they enter with a feeling of intimidation, the smallest traces of fear.  It can take a lot of breathing for those small ones to really let go and get into the better parts of the forest then.  And it can take a lot of patience from the grown ups who came along, who just know there are no monsters lurking out there behind the trees but also know that it is unkind to be flippant about such real and powerful feelings.

Besides, maybe we remember a little of that feeling ourselves. The forest is mysterious, alive.  It can be an unsettling place.  Familiar but so unfamiliar.

But even when we have a child or two in that phase, we eventually all are able to connect with that wild place.  We do all get to the point where we don’t ever want to leave.

On this visit, the boys were begging us to leave them for the week!  Have you ever felt that way?  Oh, I do!  I spent as much time as I could manage making little homes out of the forests of this country as I travelled in the summers of my college days.  I remember so many times wishing I could just stay out there where everything seemed undeniably True.

Any searching you take with you, the woods  seem to quiet and calm.  You find things.  Small things–textures, colors, sounds–and big things–poetry, peace, reverence.  The pace is slow, you inevitably relax.

We didn’t find very many mushrooms this time.  But we always find something.

And since I mentioned that this is the month for paying attention to those things we are grateful for, I should say that I am so very grateful for the proximity of the woods to us, our quick and easy access to them, and all of our minutes there.

Growing up in rural Nebraska, roaming rolling pasture at will when I was just a sprite, walking barefoot just five minutes to the banks of a gentle river where I spent hours upon hours working out the pesky details of growing up, and then spending one year in a city where I learned pretty quickly I did not belong, I have never had to go very long without recharging in nature.  I have never experienced the newly coined nature-deficit disorder.  In so many ways, it is hard for me to imagine the lives where this is possible.

But I am also acutely aware that my experience is limited.  And even though my presumption each time I visited a city was that each one was essentially the same and essentially not for me, I have spent some time in them.  The farmer himself is from southern California.  I see how cement can cover most things and how city parks can only go so far to undo that.

And so, since it is for me to need the forest, I am very thankful to have it.  I am actually  quite thankful to have not only the forest, but the mountains, and the ocean, and some wonderful rivers close by too.  Surrounding our lovely farm valley, welcoming my need to still my soul in their presence.

And just close enough, we have a pretty wonderful city to visit so that I can always gain some perspective once in a while.

How often do we get to remember that we may just have everything we need, right outside the door.

Into the Woods

Earlier this week, the farmer was chastised by one big mama voice and three small little voices for going into the woods without us to hunt for mushrooms.  A trip up into the hills is usually a family affair, something none of us want to miss out on.  And to hunt for (and find!) yummy wild mushrooms is just icing on the cake that is walking in the woods for all of us.  So, promises were made, and Sunday morning came with a little Jeff Tweedy and warm waffles to start the day off, after which we gathered our gear and headed for the forest.

There is something magical about unearthing a tasty edible mushroom, or anything, really,  that you can gather from the wild and use for food or medicine or both.  The food we plant and gather on the farm does feel like a gift from the earth, but that given to us by the wild feels like treasure!

I remember my early mushroom hunting experiences back in Nebraska.  Guided by a treasure of a woman and friend, I learned to spot seemingly invisible morel mushrooms along the tree lined river.  I was hooked, not only because those morels tasted so good, but because the activity itself is such a joy.  Every year when spring came and the lilacs bloomed, we would manage to find at least a few of these treats.  The last year we lived in Nebraska and Olorin was almost 3, he proved to be the best hunter of us all–sometimes its better to be so close to the ground!

This weekend, even with the help of little eyes, we came home without more mushrooms.  Unlike papa’s trip earlier in the week, in which he found basketfuls of golden chanterelles, we found only the treasures of exploration.

The beauty of the woods in autumn.

Water flowing down the hills again.


And because it is fall and it is Oregon, the trip was part sunshine, part rain.  We were getting a little wet and a little cold, so we came home and enjoyed some of those lovely chanterelles papa got with the humble lentil (one of my favorite fall foods) all tucked into the orange deliciousness of some acorn squash.  So even though the kids and I didn’t get the privilege of filling our baskets in the woods that day, we still got to taste its goodness when we came home.