At the beginning of May, I took up my new role, Professional Forager for The Botanist. Yes, that’s a real thing, and about the most exciting opportunity I could imagine.
I’d studied Botany before a career in tourism – 15 years as a roving tour guide in one guise or another. The environment and flora of the Highlands and Islands has always played an important part in my work.
So, half an eye out for interesting and useful plants, but was I really tuning in to what was around me? The favoured habitats? The common neighbours? The ebb and flow of growth and flowering? The subtle differences in hue and texture?
In the few short months that I’ve been a working forager (under the expert tutelage of Dr Richard and Mavis Gulliver), gathering and preparing ‘The 22’ I’ve begun to experience a massive shift in perspective. It’s like adding a fourth dimension, a richer, deeper level to everything around you. Like a visit to another country without a word of the native tongue, sure you see the sights, you’ll likely have a great time – but return a year later with a working grasp of the language and suddenly there’s so much more to take in, street signs, snippets of conversation and ultimately a feeling of fitting in, of being part of the rhythm of the place, not just an outsider looking in. I may be mumbling my first words of schoolboy French (stretching the metaphor to breaking point here!), but at least I can now tell a newsagent from a butcher’s shop.
Down by the shore, a flash of paler green at the top of a crag, likely 20 metres away. A voice in the back of my head tells me “wood sage”, followed by a pause and the realisation: I’m tuning in.
And the chanting? Well, I can’t seem to help myself, a litany of all the plants I see as I’m out and about. “Wild thyme, pennywort, green thing, green thing, skullcap, mullein, green thing…” There’s still the odd ‘green thing’ in there but they’re getting fewer.
Like a regular in a local bar I’m learning the names, the faces, the back stories and my life is all the richer for it.