Hiking, mom, Mushrooms, Utility Knife, Woods

Mushrooms, Knives and Taking Risks

11.27.08 | 5 Comments

This is Nels – confident four year old outdoor explorer. We met Nels and his family on the ferry to San Juan island. We spent the day of the wedding together, so from a civilized perspective we were acquainted right? It was not long into the pre-wedding breakfast that I heard Mommy Sara say to someone, “I think we are going to go mushroom hunting”. When I heard the words “mushroom hunting” I got a flutter in my heart. Oh to be in the Pacific Northwest and get the chance to go mushroom hunting, it was all too glamorous! At that point I gave up all pretense of independence and tagged along behind the Nelsons like a puppy. Hovering by the iphone ~ “did Sara call?…5 seconds later…did Nelson’s Mom call?…YOU will tell me if Mommy Sara calls!

Daddy Matt and Mommy Sara had struck me as cool parents from the beginning, but wow did my awe factor escalate once we hit open forest! Sara set a shining example. She hopped out of the truck and bounded off after mushrooms she had seen as we pulled up. Her boys were eager to follow buoyed by her enthusiasm. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Daddy Matt was corralling Gabe 3 and Nels 4. I looked closer and noticed that Matt was helping them open their pocket knives. Could it get any better?

Of course it got better, it became ideal! Three boys marching around the woods, autonomous, focused and in search of mushrooms, pocket knives at the ready. Sara set a perfect example. Here she was empowering her children to learn what they could eat in the woods without fear of them eating the wrong mushroom which could be potentially lethal. I’m a fairly outdoorsy mom and I’ve read Mycelium Running from cover to cover, so I have an academic understanding of mushrooms and their potential. But did I have the gumption to go mushroom hunting on my own? I think not. I learned two things from Mommy Sara. All it took was hustle and a mushroom guide. Sara hustled us out to the woods and encouraged positive risk analysis. She had a mushroom guide handy at all times. Any limp crushed mushroom the boys presented, she whipped out the book and figured out what it was. Time after time she intuitively reinforced the skill of making practical to safe decisions, the key to wilderness survival.

Our first endeavor with the Boys Almanac was learning to whittle. At the time Seth was still 3 and I was not so sanguine about the idea of him wielding a knife. Now I feel so prissy, I let my perceptions of what is “societally appropriate” get in the way of my own son’s development as a man. Here was little Gabe who just turned 3 practicing with his pocket knife. Other than the occasional reminder not to run with the open knife, or at least to point the knife down when running, Gabe did quite well with his tool. Both boys seemed at home with their knives. Eventually the boys got really engaged in “farming”. This involved harvesting and processing good clean spongy moss. Never once were the knives used as anything but tools. The blades were never swung near the hands of others, in fact the spatial awareness of all boys was uncanny. To top it all off Seth took his lack of knife (thanks mommy) in stride, and assumed a managerial position which suited him. Ingenuity was afoot, and everyone practiced working together, loosing sight of the big picture and engaging fully in the business of moss.

For those of you who just visit for the photos, here is a little sampling of our harvest. All mommas who are working hard to raise confident, self-sufficient boys need a “bling break” every now and then. Here’s your reward!

For more on mushrooms check out Mushrooms Demystified

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