ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- A few weeks ago, I collected and ate my first wild mushroom.
Learning about wild, edible fungi has been something I’ve been hoping to do for several years. I grew up in the country and a lot of my life revolved around hunting, camping, nature study and just being in the great outdoors. I learned how to identify many plants and trees, and even learned a little about wild, edible plants, but never really learned much about mushrooms and fungi.
So, after seeing a bunch of wild, edible mushrooms for sale at a local farmer’s market a few weeks ago, I pulled out a book I bought a couple years ago that describes six species of mushrooms that are easy and foolproof for beginners to identify. Then I started looking at mushrooms in the woods around my house and when I went walking in the state park.
Soon I found a couple of mushrooms featured in the guidebook. But I didn’t collect them right away. The thought of collecting and eating a wild fungus for the first time is kind of strange -- maybe even a little scary -- so I was being cautious. Although mushrooms are collected and eaten regularly in other parts of the world, here in the U.S. we tend to be suspicious of them for their mysterious and even potentially poisonous qualities.
However, after doing some more research, I went back to harvest one of them, only to find that someone else had already gotten them. Although I was disappointed, I now had a little more confidence that I had the correct ID, since someone else knew they were worth taking. Then, on my way home I found another one and harvested my first “maitake” or “hen of the woods.” Since then, I’ve found a few more, including two right by my house.
I’ve learned a lot more since then about mushrooms in general, including some of their potentially incredible medicinal qualities. There’s so much more to learn, but I feel like I’ve taken the first step. Next year, I can learn to identify a couple more and maybe get hooked up with some other collectors.
The temptation when learning something new, is to try to do it all right away. But that doesn’t always work. For one thing, we may not have the time because we are busy with other things that can’t be neglected. The other problem is that we may get overwhelmed with all there is to learn and never get started, or get bogged down in the details too soon and never learn the basics.
Sometimes, it may be better to start slow. If you’re learning about auto mechanics, learn the right way to change the oil; if you’re learning a language, learn to pronounce really well a couple of words that you’ll use a lot; if you’re learning about mushrooms, learn to positively identify just one.
It’s the same with habits: If you want to start exercising, walk to the mailbox each day consistently; if you want to develop the habit of flossing, floss just one tooth every day and never miss a day. Then once the habit sticks, you can expand.
However, that idea doesn’t always sit well with us, especially if we are competitive and perfectionists. But the thing is, it’s much better to do something imperfectly now than to plan on doing something perfectly later and possibly never get around to it.
As they say, starting is half the battle, and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
And then the trick is to just keep going.