Dr. Tom A. Titus is author of the memoir Blackberries in July: A Forager’s Field Guide to Inner Peace, a year-long chronology of old orchards, bay clams, wild mushrooms, and spawning salmon, a hunting and gathering of his spirit that became a reunion with the land and the traditions of four generations. Tom is a research geneticist and instructor at the University of Oregon. He works, writes, and forages from a home that two cats share with him and his wife in Eugene, Oregon.
Excerpt from “Chanterelle Forest” in Blackberries in July: A Forager’s Field Guide to Inner Peace by Tom A. Titus. © 2012 by Tom A. Titus.
That thing lurking around the edges of my morning now steps fully and deliberately into the open. I realize that I am angry. Not just pee-ohhed. Angry to the basement bottom of my soul. I am angry for every road-scarred clearcut and for every baby Coho choked on silt and every gallon of herbicide ever sprayed and for every two-by-four I ever bought; angry for every dam that blocked a river and every salmon that would never die at home and for every kilowatt of hydropower I ever used; angry for the rock mined from river bottoms and every mile of every road I ever drove on that gravel; angry for no-taste, no-name, no-story, no-soul petrochemical food and every plastic package of it I ever ate; angry for smoggy skies obscuring the gold-smattered hills of autumn and for every piece of wood I ever burned to heat my house; angry for economics and economists and every living thing that has died in the name of a sound economic decision and for my own retirement account; angry for every politician and every corporate lobbyist who paid them to doom the biosphere to a long, slow death and for every time I was suckered into voting for them; angry for every person sitting on every street corner begging for my money and for every time I turned my back; angry that I am picking mushrooms in this peaceful forest, standing here in my anger and thinking that if I were to focus all this angry energy it would cause me to self-combust and I would be immolated in a pillar of chanterelle-orange flame.
But anger is the eruption on the surface, a secondary emotion caused by something molten deep within. I become still and begin to follow the path of my breathing inward, allowing this little grove of old growth to fuel my imagination, carrying me back a thousand years, before all the logging and road building and planting and herbicides and thinning that now collectively pass for “intensive forest management,” returning to a time when old forests dominated the land, embracing it in an enduring state of ecological climax, a time when salmon and spotted owls and salamanders were never in the news, when “tree sitting” was a rest stop for undomesticated humans who traveled the dim vastness.
I return to a time before the feeling or the concept or the word anger. And I realize that then there was no anger because there was no emotional wounding from human-induced ecocide. That was a time before people scurried over the earth separated from the biosphere by layers of civilized complexity designed to make their lives easier, “better.” That was before humans had locked themselves in a silent, windowless, padded cell of modern living, shielded from the trauma of watching the living world die as a result of adding more insulation to their cubicle.
We are wounded even in our isolation. Millions of years of evolution have etched into our chromosomes a need for deep connections to the land and other people that is as immutable as the rocks that have become our bones that carry us around in this green world. In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold framed our evolutionary relationship to the biosphere in moral terms. He understood that we function as moral humans only when we act upon our empathic connectedness to one another, and he challenged us to expand this concept of morality to become a moral species making moral choices with respect to both our fellow humans and our place in the community of the Earth. This requires us to become fundamentally connected to our bioregion as well as to our fellow humans. The alternative—to remain within our self-constructed, self-imposed cell, trapped in entitlement, parasitizing and ultimately killing our ecological life support—is to become biologically and morally destitute.
So we arrive at a profound and tragic paradox. We must throw open the windows, break out of our cubicle, trade recycled air for oxygen made by real trees, give up hard black asphalt for delicate green moss, dump the vitamin pills, and forage for wild mushrooms. We must travel further along the path toward intimacy with the land. But in doing these things we will be hurt. We will be traumatized.
Despite this risk, I choose the path of reconciliation. I accept that I will be damaged. But I will not be destroyed by my wounded anger. Instead I will forgive. I forgive because I must; because if I don’t then upon my reentry into the atmosphere of the living world I will be obliterated in the fire of my own resentment. Instead, I choose twisted vine maple and forgiveness, slanting autumn sun and shadows on sword fern and forgiveness, a gentle trickle of spring water over sandstone and forgiveness, a young hemlock tree growing from a sawed-off stump and forgiveness, the soft silence of an owl’s feathers and cool salamander skin and the tiny hot breath of a winter wren chattering in the salal and forgiveness. I choose to forgive self-centered human blundering and insensitivity, especially my own, even though I do not forgive easily. I choose my wife and children and friends and forgiveness. I choose to watch the landscape heal. I choose to heal myself.