“Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling.
It embarrasses me to write that, but it is true. I am not by nature much of a noticer, yet here, now,
my attention to everything around me, and deafness to everything else, is complete.
Nothing in my experience has prepared me for the quality of this attention.”
~ Michael Pollan, “The Modern Hunter-Gatherer”, NYT Magazine, March 26th 2006
I remember arriving in Oakland, CA to go to grad school in Cultural Anthropology at UC Berkeley, and biking around Elmwood with my roommate Oliver. He would occasionally stop and show me the rosemary, lavender or sage on the side of the road, and sometimes take a clipping of it. I would think, wow, we never did this in London (where I had just come from). I would also think, how did he notice that was there? That’s the thing, though. When you slow down, ride a bike, walk, focus on your surroundings, things come alive, set in relief. You pay attention. That was 1997 and still to this day, when I am in Elmwood in the same block, my eyes focus to find the rosemary. When I’m walking our dog Ponyo along Mandela Parkway in West Oakland, I reach down to touch the fennel just to smell it on the tips of my fingers. But these moments are rare for me. I’m usually in my car, focused on elsewhere.
Over the years I have continuously heard about or met people involved in foraging. It’s been on my radar. I remember first meeting Asiya Wadud years ago at a dinner at our friend Nico’s and hearing about her urban foraging project in West Oakland, and over and over again hearing about Angelo’s fennel cakes and the fennel that he forages around the corner from his forge in SoMa. My husband Lloyd, who started hunting wild boar in Sonoma with Angelo and Richard Hylton (on the same property that Michael talks about above), would also forage black trumpets with our friends Angela and Larry Tse of The House in SF. I remember the black trumpet pizza, and Lloyd’s poison oak. And more recently forager Connie Green was a guest at one of my studio dinners and brought a basket of her mushrooms. I was always excited by the idea of foraging, mushrooms in particular, but was basically, truthfully, raising my children. It sounded fun, something that would be amazing to do “if”… but I never had the right space-time continuum for it to make sense for me, and that is what I need for things to happen, to integrate that something that is on my radar into the daily happening that is my life.
What I sometimes forget, though, is how I grew up with many things homemade, homegrown, foraged in the neighborhood, and the woods around us. I would ignore this part of who I was when I was a child. I just wanted to fit in, eat frozen dinners, pizzas, steak-ums; and when we would pick dandelions ~ use them as decoration, not for a salad; and not talk about how much I actually loved my grandma and papa’s homemade raviolis, ricotta gnocchi, garden tomatoes, fried zucchini, polenta. When I think back now to those days, it was what one did ~ garden, forage, make everything by hand. And it was very special having those intimate moments alone, making things with my grandparents.
That was the 70s and 80s for me, in Leominster, Massachusetts. I love how things come full circle, and how new experiences can remind one’s self of where one comes from. I hadn’t thought about foraging in Telluride (as in me actually doing it) until it was presented as a possibility. This was when I found my first porcini ~ 60+ pounds altogether ~ with friends Angelo Garro, Charlie Hallowell and Michael Pollan, Labor Day weekend, last year. Telluride is my annual ritual of time alone, with inspiring people, amazing and at times life-changing films and experiences. This was one of those moments ~ when the timing right, and I was able to focus, pay attention.
~~~Telluride Film Festival’s 40th Anniversary 2013, Labor Day Weekend : excerpts, context~~~
Above ~ Opening night, Town Park, Telluride. Punch Brothers (in town with the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis) playing tunes from past films ~ Dylan’s “The Man in Me” /The Big Lebowski, “Man of Constant Sorrow” /O Brother, Where Art Thou?;Opening act~The Americans. (photo: Pam Esterson)
Stefano Sardo (in an e-mail to me), on his screening of Slow Food Story, Aug 31st, 9:15am ~ “My screening was fabulous. It took place at the Sheridan Opera House, which is the historical venue of the Telluride FF, where it all began. I remember walking towards the SOH and then seeing a long queue of people waiting to come and see my film! It was packed. I was excited. Carlo Petrini couldn’t come with me as originally planned so I knew I had to speak for him, too, in the panel afterwards. That could be scary. But the audience was so warm, the atmosphere so friendly with me and my film that everything turned out to be very easy. My brother (Renato) came all the way from Oakland to meet me in Telluride and having him in the audience was a big help. I was very excited to see all this people from the move business in the audience: Michael Moore was there, I couldn’t believe it. During the screening I understood from the constant laughing that everybody was loving the film and I felt blessed and relieved.”
I remember the first time I met Carlo Petrini in 2008 at Slow Food Nation… It was during a year that I couldn’t make it to Telluride because I had a toddler. I was given the job as “wrangler,” in charge of making sure that the panelists were taken care of, including moderator Corby Kummer, Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Alice Waters, Dr. Vandana Shiva and Carlo Petrini. I was back stage with all of them. It was a beautiful moment, poignant and touching in retrospect. I realize how much I have grown, my perspective changed, since then. Food ~ how we get it, make it, and eat it ~ is all about where we are in our own lives, priorities, our choices, the balance we try to attain and maintain.
Foraging in Telluride, setting the stage ~
Michael Pollan (in an e-mail), on how it came to be ~ “So I had been eager to hunt mushrooms in Telluride every since Angelo told me about his first trip there, and how many mushrooms they’d found. While I was waiting for my luggage at the airport, I chatted up this woman who turned out to be the former city manager of Telluride, and told her about my aspiration. She said a friend of hers, publisher of the Telluride alt weekly, was an avid mushroom hunter and she offered to call him. He then got in touch and offered to take me out hunting, which was incredibly generous. Turns out he knew my work and had worked with an old friend of mine, Gerry Marzorati, at the SoHo Weekly news in the early 80s. I asked if I could bring Angelo and Werner (Herzog) along, and he was so relaxed about that I invited a few more people….and the rest is history. But it’s unusual for someone to share spots so generously –Angelo did it with me, Anthony Tassinello too, but it is the exception, and all such people are to be admired and emulated.”
Angelo Garro (in an interview at his forge), on foraging ~ “It’s just like a treasure hunt and it’s something that awakens in our body something ancestral like the caveman. We were hunters and gatherers, foragers by origin. It’s a spiritual moment to be immersed in nature, the forest, and it brings back something. People feel happier. Immediately there’s something magical happening.”
On foraging the first time in Telluride (11 years ago) ~ “We had stayed in the same house ~ you, Royal (who was almost 6 months old), Tomas (Sanchez) and Camille Leblanc. We went foraging ~ Werner, Tomas and I, and someone local.. we got porcini and we decided to have a dinner with some of the directors. It’s always magical bringing people together.”
On FORAGING in TELLURIDE during the 40TH ~ “To me it just happens. I don’t get too technical about things. It’s already in them. It’s in each one of us. The timing just has to be right, and that Sunday in Telluride, was all about timing. And then we made the dinner afterwards at the house.”
Charlie Hallowell (in an interview at Pizzaiolo in Oakland) on foraging ~”I dialed it in ~ the value of going foraging in a new place and a new geography. It’s the geometry of spaces in the natural world. All the natural world is fundamentally different than the man-made world. There’s a different vibration. The way light reflects off a surface, like the light hitting off your skin right now. It’s like the light rays reflecting off the seemingly random, natural, ordered world.. You feel an energy that is fueling and energizing. The trees swaying in the distance fuels me, and calms me down versus the city. It’s a higher pitched vibration that isn’t soothing. I feel tense and my breath is less at ease. When you’re foraging what’s important is you really have to be present with what’s in front of you, paying attention to what’s around you. It’s so “yogish” in that way. It’s like cooking. You see things you don’t usually see. It’s also like tracking. For millions of years we have moved 10 miles an hour and maybe by boat, 15 miles an hour. Now we’re constantly moving quickly..
When we were foraging that day i was actually a little nervous about getting lost. i don’t have the greatest sense of direction and i remember having a couple moments where i thought i was somewhere else that i wasn’t. I like to push it a little bit. When i’m out there i really want to feel free and tap into a sense of real freedom but I’ve gotten myself into trouble, where I’ve gotten really lost and then i have to find myself “un-lost” like this time in the south of france when I had this 14 hour adventure. Desire, satisfaction ~ Foraging is so satisfying. It pulls us back in time and connects us with some really primal shit. First, you’re moving slowly. It’s intentional and you kind of have to let your vision soften so you can see the mushrooms amongst the leaves. You have to soften your gaze. You can’t look too hard. Cal (Peternell) will literally look at a hillside; and I won’t see it until he points it out; especially with chanterelles because they look like fall leaves.
I did this 25 day float down the Grand Canyon.. and in the evening we’d lie on our back and toss pebbles onto a ledge. It was so difficult. but when we did it we were howling with glee. It’s like that when you’re looking for mushrooms. You’re a hunter and a forager and it’s so simple but it makes you want to giggle because it’s so pleasurable. I’m trying so hard to stay focused on those simple things because we have so many things now like technology and high-level entertainment. It’s so high-tech and I’m absolutely positive that I couldn’t get 1/10th the pleasure from that machine than walking in the woods and finding mushrooms. It ties you to this thing of one million years of gathering and foraging. It slows us down to our natural rhythms and makes us pay attention to the world around us. ”
Above ~ Charlie. Above, left ~ Charlie and Angelo, making lunch on the rocks. Right ~ cooking pasta (w/ porcini, olive oil, garlic and parsley) that evening.
Me, on foraging ~ I was elated that Sunday ~ the whole day. Getting ready to go, whilst there, and creating the dinner later that evening. As goofy as it sounds, it was a breath of fresh air. Not much else to say, except totally alert, excited and what an amazing thing to do on a Sunday during film fest. It altered the ritual a bit, and this I secretly loved. With an extra day added for the 40th, this was the perfect pause in the midst of a totally beautiful yet intense weekend. The film festival is a free moment in my hectic year and I love to take advantage of every second of being just me. It is me, in many ways at my happiest ~ with no drop-offs, pick-ups, distractions by fighting children, playdates and family drama. Some people see me only in that context and don’t realize the daily ritual of the rest of my year, which is very much about my 11 year old daughter and 8 year old son, which I love too. But there is usually no time for the spontaneous hike to a mountain an hour away where we could stay for 4 hours+ and collect nothing or everything in the guise of porcini. This is not my usual life, this is something special, treasured, a moment magnified, remembered.
Above ~ My first “boletus edulis” aka porcini.. in Telluride, CO. September 1st, 2013.
Post-Script ~ I was planning on publishing this on July 4th, our country’s birthday, the birth of independence, a day of celebration, I like the idea of discovery and re-birth, and how sometimes it takes slowing things down to really bring us back to what’s meaningful in life. For me, that’s alone time, it’s wandering and letting things take shape as they will. It was that day of foraging. For me, too, it is also taking time out for myself in the “real” world, and I do this by seeing films early afternoon by myself ~ usually at the Rialto Cinema in Elmwood or one of the Landmarks. And on Tuesday July 1st, because of the timing between drop-off and pick-up Jon Favreau’s CHEF fit in that slot. It was the perfect film for me to see that day ~ especially because I was thinking a lot about how I integrate both Royal and August into my life, but especially in making food and preparing for the salon dinners. And little did I know he would be at Pixar two days later and I would be able to hear him talk about his journey making the film (which will be covered in another post). I had already found the Wendell Berry quote below, but also thought this “post-script” fitting and right… I asked Jon (during Q&A) what restaurants he ate at when he was in town, and he paused and thought and said he just went to a place across from Twitter ~ (Daniel Patterson’s) Alta, CA. He mentioned they made their own ice cream; and then he went on to talk about the produce here, the history of places like Chez Panisse, and he ended the hour long talk, speaking about mindfulness, and how food in many ways ~ both the eating and prepping ~ is about “being present at that moment.” He mentioned that David Chang would say that you had to eat at a sushi bar, because the rice won’t be perfect if it wasn’t eaten at that precise moment, going directly from chef to guest. And I remember eating at Coi in SF, Daniel’s other restaurant, and timing of food, between dishes, being absolutely essential ~ there is a perfect moment when a dish is to be eaten. Jon continued, It’s THAT MOMENT, and especially “for the kid,” (referring to the father/son relationship in the film). And the promise of social media (like the use of Twitter in his film) is on connecting more. That’s the hope. But essentially in all aspects of life ~
“it’s getting back to the ritual, the presence and the complete focus” ~ Jon Favreau, July 3rd, 2014, Pixar, Emeryville (below).
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves
does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”
~ Wendell Berry, A Place On Earth