Thursday, September 1, 2016

Night Foraging: My New Favorite Hobby



It was probably 8:30 pm already when Jordan from Rabbit Ridge Farm decided that she needed to dehydrate some hibiscus flowers. The only problem was that we did not have enough flowers to fill our dehydrator. 

In the past weeks, we had collected and dehydrated several hundred pounds of chanterelle and oyster mushrooms, keeping the dehydrator running almost 24/7. Somehow, we had finally caught up with all of our drying, though. So we grabbed our trusty headlamps, our harvesting bags, and four or five dogs, and off to the woods we went. Lucky for us, it seemed that we practically knew how to get to our favorite mushroom patch with our eyes shut, but it was almost pitch black by the time we reached it at 9 pm. 

Leaving the security of the trail, Jordan and I flipped on our headlamps. Zak, who loses his shoes and water bottle seemingly every 5 minutes, was running blind without his and had to stick close by to avoid running into face level spider webs and falling into one of the many abandoned coal mines on the property. 

"I can smell the mushrooms; I think we're close. We just have to go a little higher in elevation before we start seeing them" he says quietly. That's the funny thing about Zak, he has sort of a sixth sense for finding things in the woods. If he says anything at all about mushrooms, you better start looking fast, because it is almost a guarantee that some are around. Better yet, his ability to smell them is so uncanny that it is almost eerie. 

Sure enough, less than a minute later, our first glimpse of orange jumps out against the leaf litter in the light of our dim headlamps. At first we only see a chanterelle or two once every 20 feet, but as we travel up the hillside, they seem to be everywhere! They were so dense in fact that it was difficult to walk without stepping on a mushroom, or six.  

We quickly picked enough to fill the dehydrator, but foraging in the darkness was just so much more exciting than in the day, so we continued until our bags and baskets were full to the brim. 

Stumbling back down the hill, the familiar "who cooks for you, who cooks for you allll" of our old friend, the barred owl, echoed through the holler, barely audible above the ear piercing cicada and katydid orchestra. Our own giddy laughter adding to the cacophany, we scurried back to our little homestead. 

Once we left the woods, though, everything seemed to get get much quieter. There is nothing quite like bursting from the heavy blanket of the forest into the open fields of semi-civilization, to be met by honeysuckle breeze and nature's nightly lightshow. 

Arriving at the house, Zak and Jordan started filling the dehydrator, but I merely put my bag in the fridge and wandered out towards the garden.

Gazing upwards, I did not envy morning people and their sunrise coffee facebook photos, for they need that drug to observe that familiar, worldly light. I, on the other hand, drank in the warm blackness of the night sky, the milky way my half and half, and the fireflies my sugar, and I knew that I could stay up forever in this ancestor land. 

This prompted me to think, as the solitude of night often does, why must we close our eyes once the sun goes down when there is so much more to see, to experience, in the dark? 

I understand natural fear of the dark, but we must tell our monkey brains that there is no longer megafauna waiting in the bushes to snatch us up. But maybe it isn't the cave lions that scare us anymore; maybe we are afraid of what our ancient ancestors found the greatest comfort in: connection. 

Today in the age of the world wide web, the greatest global connector in history, we have found ourselves disconnected on a local scale. Not only are we disconnected from the natural communities around us, we are disconnected from our psyche, and even worse, we are disconnected from the many dimensions that make up our universe. By attempting to span the tangible globe, we have severely limited the range of our minds from the vast distances our ancestors once traveled. 

We believe that we have mastered living in this world, with science, and technology, and modern medicine, surely we can figure out a way to survive anything. While these modern discoveries have given us convenience, they have also given us fear, for today, humans fear what they cannot control and deep down, we know that we control very little. 

Our ancestors did not have fear, though, as they understood that they were never in control in the first place. Every single day of their lives, they experienced life and death, fire and water, night and day moreso than most people experience in a lifetime today. By closely observing these elemental beings, they became familiar with the idea that there is so much more to life than the physical world. They were not connected to our modern, suffocating ideas of reality. To them, the world was merely a constant flow of energy, ebbing whichever way it pleases; they jumped right in the current and let it sweep them away. They left the decision making up to the universe, knowing that they were never meant to decide, their only job was to be happy, and to listen. 

We don't do enough of that today; we do not listen, we do not observe. We are children on this earth, we are meant to be happy, to listen and observe, and to learn. 

Currently, humans are fighting the current of the universe, but we are still being pushed downstream. We are exhausting ourselves unnecessarily, and in our exhaustion, we are faultering, but if we listen and allow ourselves to be pushed the right direction, we will be much more satisfied with life. 

And what better time to listen than the night? Next time you get a chance, find some reason to go out in nature at night. Whether you go on a hunt for mushrooms, simply take a stroll, or just sit quietly on the ground, take time to just be in the dark. You may observe occurances in the natural world that are more amazing than anything you could conjure in your head. There are wonderments that you just can't observe in the daylight, from biolumenescent mushrooms to mass migrations of salamanders, the new experiences are endless. 



It is a fact, at this point in time, that humans are destroying the natural world by polluting the air, the water, and the land. We are destroying it because we do not love it. We do not love nature because we no longer observe the amazing and beautiful rythms of the earth. Even if you walk in the woods every day, you are only getting to know half of the deal, you must also walk at night to fully understand it. 

If it is too dark to see nature, you are left with yourself.  By taking away our physical sight, we are able to delve much deeper into our own being, not to see ourselves, but to feel. As a child, did you ever run down a hill at full speed with your eyes closed until you felt like you were flying? It is sort of like that. When you give up control, give up sight, you can have experiences that would otherwise seem impossible. 

When everything is dark, there is no ground or sky, there is only little old you floating around in the cosmic womb. There are no other humans telling you what you can and can't be, what you know and don't know. There is only your mind, your body, and your soul, left to reconnect and catch up on the time you've been away from each other. 

And your soul is already tapped in with the universe, in fact, it never disconnected from it.  

After all of this mumbo jumbo, what is my point? Basically, go out in nature at night, separate yourself from humanity at the easiest time, when they are all sleeping. You might just discover something new, something important. And if not, at least you got some time to relax and look at the stars. 

Good night.


Night foraging in Labrador. 

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