You don’t need to be old to share your skills and knowledge, nor old to be ‘elder’ like. In some cultures it takes a lifetimes work to become an elder in others maybe a little less: a body of knowledge to share.
There are Primary Schools, High Schools, Universities and Technical Schools. We move through these to gain skills and knowledge and to build links with skilled teachers. Formal education has its place and can offer an empowering experience. But what of informal teaching?
Such as an uncle; a weaver of textured fabrics sitting in his studio weaving wonder, knitting scarves and jumpers for his family and friends. An aunty; bending hot metal into shapes, twisting rusted iron into gates and ornaments, forging sculpted spoons for the table. A family friend; a bush walker with a passion for trees and wild flowers spilling Latin names at every conversation, pointing at plants with vigorous zeal and shouting Lepidosperma curtisiae! like a wizard.
The educational value of these informal encounters is enormous, undervalued at times and completely absent for some. And yet we need them like we need air. We need them like we need water. We need to passionately, fluidly, generously, with kindness and with care share our knowledge and skills so that our communities can be vigorous, vibrant, dynamic, healthy, and resilient. We need to multiply an individual’s access to opportunities for learning lifelong skills. Skills that turn our hands into makers of beauty. Our minds into baskets of languages.
My daughter will start high school next year and I am thinking and thinking. I am thinking about algebra and kinetics, geometry and probability; grammar and essay writing. These skills will have value…will help her a little, will help her a lot? What will she walk away with; something tangible? Sooner or later?
When her exams are finished and dusted what will she feel? What has she learned? From prep to year twelve, thirteen years of eight hour days.
I struggle with school curriculums. Most parents do? All parents think they know better than schools don’t they? What has this got to do with mushrooms? I have not even mentioned mushrooms so why mention them now?
What will she know of the world around her? Can she read the landscape? Can she read the sun? Can she weave herself a scarf? Can she cook herself a meal? At college I shared a kitchen with a young man who asked me to help him complete the steps for making Two Minute Noodles.
Will she know how to read the health of soils? Can she navigate a walking track? Can she grow a seedling? Know the workings of that seed? Where watercourses flow and where rivers are made? Can she forage for mushrooms edible and present in winter to fatten her larder?
Last Friday I went for a walk with Patrick and Meg to learn how to forage for edible mushrooms.
When we bought our 15 acres in Blampied over four years ago I came across Alison Pouliot’s fungi images on Wombat Forestcare’s Fungi of the Wombat Forest and Macedon Rangers guide. The guide had been created to raise awareness of the beauty of fungi and their ecological importance as nutrient recyclers: fungi make it possible for plants to access nutrients from soil through a complex symbiotic relationship. This being one of its many roles.
The images triggered in me a culinary cue. If the area was bestowed with mushrooms then among them must be edible ones too. I searched to see what books I could find on the subject that explored species growing in Australia and their edibility and found none. I contacted Alison to see if her workshops could help and discovered their popularity made them inaccessible for now; but I will persist. I realised that Alison’s focus was on fungi ecology in terms of conservation and protection and in helping communities understand the truly vital role fungi play in the food web and this too is of great interest to me, so I wondered how I could also access information about edible fungi in Australia.
I picked up a copy of Antonio Carluccio’s book ‘A passion for mushrooms’ in the discount bin near Cinema Nova Melbourne, and felt his excitement for mushroom foraging leaping off the page. I wondered again how I could inherit this knowledge.
Antonio grew up surrounded by elders foraging for mushrooms and learned his skills incrementally as a child over many years. How can in Australia we begin this cycle of learning so that our children can also be introduced to the wonder of foraging? and not only for mushrooms but for a range of plants that grow readily around us.
This takes me back to last Friday. Woody, Patrick and Meg’s son, at just three years of age has learned to recognise edible mushrooms from their non edible companions. By the time he is in his 20’s he will have reached elder status and his knowledge on mushrooms and edible weeds will be sought after by all across the land (no pressure Woody!).
This morning I ate Field Blewits, Wood Blewits, Rooting Shanks, a Grey Knight and one Lawyers Wig found by Patrick on our walk. I cooked each species individually and only with oil and butter on high heat. I wanted to taste the difference between them. I was surprised to find they were very similar, with the exception of the Lawyers Wig which had the strongest mushroom flavour. The others were mild, with a firm and pleasant texture and very enjoyable.
Here in Hepburn, with so many foraging opportunities at hand, I, like Carluccio, am developing a passion for mushrooms and I, like mushrooms, plan to leave a trail of spores for my daughters to follow.