My cousin and I head out the door of my parents’ house on San Antonio creek. The air is cold and the sun is out as we amble through the fields, past my dad’s workshops and old cars and huge woodpiles. This now adult cousin of mine is like a little brother grown, we talk together effortlessly about anything, past, present and future, as we circle around the pond my dad built, through an ancient oak forest where my sister and I played as kids. Being out there feels the same as it always has. The terrain feels familiar to me, the feeling of picking up your feet a certain way when walking places where there are leaves and oak galls and branches encrusted with lichens underfoot. As an adult, the muscle memory of the place lingers, and I’m learning the deeper language of the oak gall, lichen, and mushroom.
During our walk, we come across hundreds of oak galls on the ground, and suddenly I see a coveted dye mushroom, pushing up from the grassy area by the pond, its brown powdery spores giving it away, I pick the mushroom but leave the oak galls, since we don’t have bags with us. We keep walking and talking. On the other side of the pond, I spy a large yellow bolete mushroom. Now I am holding an enormous yellow mushroom and a mass of fungus dropping powder as we hike up the hill to the fields. My cousin smiles but understands my ways. We keep walking and talking, letting grief, laughter and dreams trail behind us.
Later, at home, I toss the huge mushroom into the dyepot, and a few days later, the powdery one, both times I am rewarded with their hidden colors, amber and chocolately brown yarns, pink linen and drippingly rich dark gold silk. I spend those days stirring pots, checking color, cleaning up the backyard and giving thanks for another glimpse of the language of nature.
The following week we return, and I bring bags. My cousin and I take the same walk again, and we gather a bagful of oak galls while we’re at the pond. We each find another of the powdery mushroom, Pisolithus arrhizus. He is a natural mushroom hunter I notice and he then confesses he has a chanterelle spot. We smile at the fields becoming emerald green.
The multifaceted language of nature reveals itself. The heat of a certain kind of wood, the colors in lichens, mushrooms and plants, the tannins of oak galls, the flavor of bitter greens, a duck, deer or fish, and on and on. The language we focus on informs us, it shapes who we become, it shapes our culture. Let’s become multilingual, and remember the language of plants, animals and seasons, and bring the fruits of these languages to our community.