Into the Woods
I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I first encountered this quote from Henry Thoreau’s Walden in Dead Poets Society, one of my favourite films during my formative years. It struck a chord with me at the time and perhaps planted the seed that has led me to the life I live today.
The book chronicles Thoreau’s quest for a simple life of self-sufficiency in a small wood near Massachusetts. I understand the sentiment completely – it is exactly what Arūnas and I are trying to do here in the Lithuanian countryside. What’s most fascinating to me is that Thoreau wrote Walden in 1854, before the advent of telecommunications and our ridiculously fast-paced modern society. If Thoreau were alive today he might have stayed in the woods a little longer.
Lithuania is famous for its forests. Over one third of the country is covered in woodland, often as small pockets surrounded by flat, open pastures. The woods are home to a vast array of wildlife and in early autumn, when the weather is still warm but rain is becoming a little more frequent, the forest floors are blanketed with mushrooms. Lithuanians are expert mushroomers and most country dwellers can easily tell their oak boletes from their bay boletes with ease. During late August and early September the roads are lined with mushroom sellers, each with their buckets crammed with freshly picked mushroomy delights.
While it was tempting to buy a bucket of mushrooms ready-picked, I really wanted to experience this truly Lithuanian activity for myself. Foraging for delicious wild mushrooms is as self-sufficient as it gets. The mushroom season is quite short so, with Arūnas as my guide, I went into the woods.
Foraging for mushrooms is a slow business – you may be lucky and find a few together, but often the really good mushrooms are few and far between. Arūnas taught me how to distinguish the edible from the inedible. As a rough rule of thumb, the more attractive the mushroom, the more dangerous it is likely to be. If it is red and highly decorative it is probably poisonous. If it is brown and camouflaged amongst the leaf litter it is probably ok.*
On our first day we were incredibly lucky and found over two kilos of high-end mushrooms – mostly various species of boletes, including the highly prized cep. These mushrooms provided us with a number of delicious dinners – mushroom risotto, mushroom and bacon quiche and lots of mushroom omelettes. Mushrooms and eggs make a great pairing and, as our girls have been laying well recently, we had a number of “free” meals.
I found the slow process of tramping about the forest, surrounded by the sounds of the birds in the trees and the crackling of falling leaves, quite therapeutic so I have taken to the woods a number of times since, with my walking companion Jackas (the dog) along for company. While the boletes are now infrequent they have been replaced by large numbers of Honey Fungus mushrooms so there are still plenty of mushrooms to be found.
I often think of Thoreau’s words when I am in the forest. Arūnas and I have experienced so many new and exciting things over the past year and I really believe we are sucking the marrow from every day of our lives. I am hoping that this simple life will keep us healthy and that we will live long and happy lives, but when our time eventually comes I hope that we can look back at our lives and say that truly, we have lived.
*A word to the wise: there are hundreds of species of mushrooms and many are inedible and highly dangerous. Please do not pick and eat wild mushrooms unless you are accompanied by a mushroom expert or are an experienced mushroom picker.