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Slow Adventure

Because fools rush in

This little dude is having a slow adventure. Photo by Mary Reed.

I make a mental checklist of what I’ve brought for today’s morel mushroom hunt: knife, bag, journal, pencil, spade, water, mushroom guide, wildflower guide. Then I happily make a mental note of what’s not on my checklist: anything else.

I’m out today with my friend Paul, a man who moves slowly through the woods, sometimes painstakingly slowly. There are days when I want to say, “Get a move on, old man!” But today is not one of those days. Today I am here to observe the Zen master of the woods himself. You see, Paul lives happily and slowly in the moment. I aspire to do the same. So I’ve decided to start a Slow Adventure movement right here with the two of us. Change begins at home.

I ask Paul if he’s ever heard of the Slow Food movement. “Sure,” he replies. “Someone in Italy started …” He corrects his line of thought: “Someone in Italy called it that. I’ve been into slow food for decades.” Just one look at Paul – a wizened old back-to-the-lander – and you can tell this is true. And it is exactly what I love about the man. He doesn’t need external affirmation for anything he does, and he doesn’t need somebody to name it for him, either.

We’re on the property Paul has inhabited for 35 years. He knows these woods like the back of his hand, and he accomplished this by staying local and taking his time – what I consider to be the first two tenets of Slow Adventure.

I’ve decided on the name Slow Adventure because I’m inspired by the Slow Food movement. A lot of the concepts are the same: slow food says you should know where your food comes from, it should come from local sources when possible, slow down and enjoy preparing it, slow down and enjoy eating it. Be in the moment and share the experience with people you care about. Think about the impact of your food decisions on your health, on farmers, on the environment.

We are partaking in a ritual of spring that has been practiced and passed on for countless generations: parent to child, farmer to farmer, mushroom lover to mushroom lover. If we’re successful today, it’ll be Slow Adventure and Slow Food.

* * *

The year is about 1992 and I’m taking a geography class. We take a bioregional quiz. The questions are pretty straightforward: How many days ‘til the moon is full? Name 5 edible plants in your region and their season(s) of availability. Where does your garbage go? I score in the “You have your head up your ass” range. (In fairness, I score high in this range.) I am jolted into quickly scanning my life history: riding my bike around the campground as a kid, only helping my dad in the garden when it came time to pick strawberries, getting into adventure sports as a young adult – never paying close attention to the world around me as I whizzed through it as quickly and enjoyably as possible.

Then came random moments that shook me into the recognition that I just wasn’t paying attention: the friend who stopped to note that beautiful bird call and which bird it belonged to (I didn’t even hear it!), the other friends who cooked with wild edibles when we had a potluck, the Italian neighbor who asked me what that beautiful flowering tree was. Um, a dogwood?

***

I am standing at the base of a dead elm tree. I yell over to Paul, “I’m probably gonna step on— I found one! I found one! I found one!” I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt. My first morel of the year. I am truly terrible at finding morels. As if I’m that kid in her dress and white shoes, I ask Paul to call me over when he finds one before picking it, so I can find it myself. He obliges. The first time I come to Paul’s spot, he waits. And waits. This adventure is getting too slow even for Paul, so he starts honing in. “It’s within six feet of me,” he says. I shush him and then discover the Smurf condo of morel mushrooms a mere two feet in front of me.

I’m getting a complex about how bad I am at finding morels. I feel I’ll be a failure today if I don’t go home with enough for a meal. Plus, I need a good story to write. Then I realize I’m approaching this day like Monsanto Adventure, not Slow Adventure. So I change my strategy. I start looking at whatever it is in front of me, and not worrying about what I’m not looking at. Turns out I find some other edibles: wild onions, fiddlehead ferns. And then I find more morels – on my own this time.

For me, anyway, it takes time to ease into Slow Adventure. It doesn’t come naturally. But I like it.

***

It’s about 2001 and I’ve signed up for a primitive skills and wilderness survival class with one of the masters – Tom Brown Jr. We arrive for class and get lesson number 1: awareness. Advanced students “hide” from us in plain sight and we almost never notice them. We start by practicing wide-angle vision instead of focusing on only one thing to the exclusion of everything else; we practice walking three steps and then stopping to look around, listen, smell, feel. It is painstaking for me. Where’s a cliff I can go jump off of? A moving body of water I can dive into? A nice steep singletrack I can hurtle myself down?

But I slowly (!) start to realize that the idea isn’t to stop, it’s simply to slow down when appropriate. All of us get a little bit better right away. We occasionally notice the other students hiding in plain sight; we practice walking slowly and silently; we work on identifying plants and their uses, from food to fire making. It is empowering and it is enjoyable. And it’s pretty damn slow. We actually practice walking in super slow motion in order to approach a deer in a way that it cannot sense that we are moving toward it. We receive a challenge: If any of us can stalk a deer and touch it, we will earn a free slot in the advanced class. Nobody touches a deer this week.

Tom is quite the storyteller and he tells us of Grandfather and the fisherman. Grandfather was Stalking Wolf, the Lipan Apache man who, Tom says, taught him everything he knows about primitive skills. Tom was clandestinely observing Grandfather one day and saw tears of happiness in Grandfather’s eyes – happiness for simply being alive in the world and all the wonder and sustenance it brings at all times. Later in life, after Grandfather died, Tom came upon an old man who had been fishing avidly his entire life. Tom looked at the fish in the man’s bucket and noted how beautiful they were, how colorful. By the end of the encounter, the fisherman has tears in his eyes, tears of regret for an entire life that had passed and he hadn’t ever even looked closely at the fish to see their beauty.

Nobody in this room wants to be the fisherman. We all want to be Grandfather. We all have tears in our eyes.

* * *

I think about that class today in addition to a million other things that race through my mind. But I also calm my thoughts enough to hear an ovenbird and a wood thrush – two birds I could not have recognized 10 years ago. Occasionally, other people are impressed with my scant knowledge of plants and how to throw them into a dish for a potluck. Perhaps I’m smug when I hear their praise, but I try to remember to tell them that it came late in life for me. From now on, I’ll tell them it’s never too late to join the Slow Adventure Movement. And it’s never too soon, either.

Mary Reed still does everything too fast, except getting out of bed in the morning. She is editor of Get Out!