‘It seems to me that we look at nature too much and live too little with her’ I’ve just heard this Oscar Wilde quote on radio 4. His words set my hairs on edge. Was Oscar a forager? I’m not sure and to be honest I’m such an uncultured type I don’t even know what it connection to the wilds was (apart from lying on grass with a cigarette in his beautiful mouth) but he put his refined finger right on the button in this statement & in a way that’s utterly apt 130 years later. Lots of people in our country have nature disconnect – that’s a fact. Lots of us try and reconnect with nature by looking at her – we go for woodland walks, climb mountains, gaze at the stars but not many of us live with her. Our culture has become so distant from the notion that we belong to nature: in fact, since even before the days when Oscar lay on grassy fields, we believed that nature belonged to us. We look on at nature with a distance gaze – we have a relationship with nature by treating it as the ultimate commodity, controlling & often destroying it – even people who want to preserve nature often feel humans have such a negative impact on nature that we should leave her well alone & look on at the natural world as a precious place apart from human intervention.
Obviously preserving nature is far more preferable to destroying & poisoning it, but it can miss the point that Oscar made so beautifully. We should live with her – but we should really take that statement further – we are nature; we’re a part of her. To live life as part of nature we need to go further than going on a walk, building reserves, putting up fences, being fearful of ‘touching’. Ever since I gathered honeysuckle in the company of fellow foragers; bees and moths, eating the food that grows freely, of its own volition , my life in nature began. Gathering and eating the wild feels like drinking from a watering pool with other animals. We’re no more entitled to this food than the bee who is suckling nectar from honeysuckle, than the hedge dwelling birds nibbling on birch buds; or than the squirrels racing us for hazelnuts, but equally we’re no less entitled to it either. Wild, gathered food nourishes us in an incomparable way & it feed our bodies with nutrient dense food, and it feeds our souls in a way that no shopping trip can. We, the human species animal needs to be reintroduced to our native environment – we need to be rewilded. Foraging is a remarkably delicious way of connecting us back to the world we live in; changes our very view of the world we see around us; when you no longer see unkempt weedy verges, but lush larders your world view shifts in a powerfully liberating way.
What would happen if we all started to forage for our suppers? How could the world cope? I sit here writing on my hill that flanked on the left by a plain of Herefordshire farmland – I can see on a clear day miles & miles of fields growing a handful of crops – potato’s, oil seed rape, wheat, apples and hops – huge fields of monoculture; dependant on a strict cycle of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides to ensure their crops yield well, and contracts can be met so we can be fed. To my right there are hills – too rough and undulating to grow crops on; in place of oil seed rape are thick hedgerows, pasture & woodland – full of crops; natures crops – herbs (weeds) fruit & nuts enough to feast on – nature thrives here and repays her inhabitants – insect, birds and mammals with food to feed us all – the 2 views from my hill make a statement as eloquent as Oscar could make that nature really can provide when she is allowed to flourish; and we will flourish if we live in her.