Most of my earliest memories are filled with the lush, green visions of forest in Mississippi and Arkansas. My parents took my sister and brother and I camping in the falls and summers; we would venture to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas where we played in streams, dodged water moccasins and climbed over rocks and boulders, to get a better view.
As I grew older, nature continued to call to me. The biggest reason that I chose the college I attended was because it was nestled in a valley of the same mountains I grew up playing in. I've gone white water rafting on the Ocoee river in the Cherokee National Forest, canoed down the Buffalo River in Arkansas, camped in the dry heat of Santa Fe, and slept in a van in Yellowstone. So many adventures are lodged in my memory as many of the best times of my life.
When I moved to Austin, Texas 5 years ago, I thought less about nature and more about living in a city for the first time. Regular excursions in the woods turned into biking adventures to the city downtown. Camping trips became replaced with weekend yoga workshops and networking events, as I familiarized myself with my new home. However, my love of nature has always beckoned me.
I have found my special spots off the beaten path in Austin; of which I will keep to myself for reverence to their untouched nature. I have foraged for mushrooms and eaten wild onions right from the ground. I have discovered a southwest-style nature that I never saw growing up, save for yearly road trips out to California where cacti dotting the landscape always seemed unfamiliar.
I want to share with you my most recent outdoor excursion; a simple 2 hour walk on the greenbelt to forage for wild edibles, just the other day. On this trip, my goal was to find Wood ear mushrooms (a meaty delicacy!) and gather Cleavers (a detoxifying herb) and spring onions.
Whenever I go foraging, the energy around me seems to shift into something quiet, and still. I feel that I must be alone, and silent so that I can listen to where each plant may be hiding. Cleavers are extremely prominent and weren't hard to find; but it's the mushrooms and wild onions that call for that stillness.
I first happened upon a small batch of Cleavers but they were nestled amongst poison ivy, so I let them be- for obvious reasons. I knew I would stumble upon more. Next, I found what I call "my mushroom log" - a trusty fallen branch that seems to always grow Wood-ears after a heavy rain. I hit the jackpot on this day! I was able to forage 2 handfuls of these earthy treats- I always leave a few, out of respect for this Earth-offering.
Further down, I made it to my favorite spot by the water- white rocks that make me feel like I'm in a tropical grotto. I spent some time meditating before I journeyed back. I happened upon an enormous Cleaver crop. I only needed a handful so a handful is all that I picked.
As I made my way to the end of my adventure, I spotted a beautiful batch of wild spring onions. You have to be careful when picking onions; there is a look alike but toxic plant. If it smells like onions, then it is onions. I picked just a few to put into some soup I will be making this week.
When I got home, I began the process of drying the mushrooms. They'll last for ages, once dried, and can then be rehydrated in soups or stews. The texture of them is truly amazing. I made a tincture with the Cleavers and Gin to help with PMS, breast tenderness, and to flush the lymphatic system. I also made a facial toner by covering them with witch hazel. The final thingI made with the Cleavers is a drinking vinegar, with apple cider vinegar. Each of these tonics will need to rest in a cool, dark place for at least 4 weeks and then they'll be ready to use!
For me, my body has no choice but slow down when I am immersed in nature. The sounds of the birds, rushing water, and the breeze on my skin brings back home to myself. I feel like we can all return home to ourselves when we put on feet on the bare ground. Each time I go for a hike, I always take off my shoes and feel my toes on the dirt.
There is nothing more satisfying than spending a few hours with no distractions except lush greenery and butterflies.