As usual, this morning I walked my dogs. I am fortunate enough to live on the edge of a vast woods where I can be alone with nature and the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If I had my way, I’d live deep in the forest with only the sounds of wildlife to listen to.
Occasionally I see the odd dog walker, like me (no pun intended!), the occasional jogger or cyclist. This morning was different. A man crossed my path out of the undergrowth. A man who reminded me of Grizzly Adams, tall and broad, a stained white beard, heavy boots and A KNIFE! Let me add, he was also carrying a wicker basket, the kind a genteel lady might use for gathering blooms from her flower garden. In a flash, quite wrongly, I was scared. In the next few seconds, I said “good morning” and expected us to both go our separate ways. He walked over to me, knife still in hand, and smiled. A smile that was filled with warmth. As he approached I could see that his basket contained all kinds of mushrooms, full to the brim. I asked him if he was going to eat them and he proceeded to show me all the different types of fungi he’d gathered, quite proudly. I told him I’d read about about edible wild mushrooms, but was frightened to pick any for fear of poisoning myself! He scraped off some of the outer parts of the mushrooms showing me how to prepare them to eat. This man was a forager. Judging by his accent, he was not from this country, but somewhere he had grown up with an appreciation of nature and its offerings. I suspect he was Eastern European, possibly Ukrainian by his accent. “When you grow up in the forest, you know these things. The forest provides everything you need, mushrooms, berries, chestnuts, wild rocket”. He went on to tell me how sad it was that part of this wooded area had been butchered by so called professional tree fellers. “They clear an area, then put a bench on it, then spread a little further, until to forest is destroyed. They even cut down healthy trees, all for money and greed” As he spoke, I could see he was clearly and genuinely upset.
This man was right, our woods had been damaged by diggers, natural hedgerows crushed, saplings flattened, habitats lost. I told him how sad I had been when I first ventured out after the massacre of this once beautiful place. It is still a woods, but since the forest management people have been in, the canopy is a little too thin (in my opinion) and the deep marks of the heavy vehicles have destroyed too much. He said, “You are the 100th person to say this to me, we all need to respect mother nature and she will provide”. He waved me off, knife still in hand, wished me day a good day and we parted company. This man, who I have never seen before left a mark on me. I’d wrongly been scared of his outward appearance. This man mountain was a gentle soul, a lover of the outdoors and a scarce guardian of our green and natural spaces. A rare gem. I’d been lucky to encounter him, if only to reaffirm my duty to conserve our countryside.
We are so often consumed by the lure of material ‘stuff”. We could all do with stopping for a moment, being present and respecting nature. The woods will no doubt recover if they are left alone for enough time. If only there were more people like him. On reflection, if there were more people like him, the world would be a more pleasant place. Sir, I am glad we stopped and chatted.