How To Forage For Spring Edibles, Interpret The Behaviour and Vocalizations of Spring Birds, And Track The Activities Of Local Wildlife!
Hey everybody it’s Brian Mertins and welcome to our springtime celebration live call.
This is great.
I’m excited to spend this time with you today talking about some of the interesting things happening out on the land during the spring season.
We’ll talk about foraging for spring edibles… things to look for in the behaviour and vocalizations of spring birds… and things to look for in the different wildlife tracks and what’s happening with the mammals at this time of year.
And we’re going to do all this in a way that’s really gonna go a lot deeper than the standard camping and hiking experience that’s a fairly mainstream recreational activity.
Part of what I want to share with you today is an entire mindset and way of thinking about nature that gets you a lot more tuned in and using your senses… your observation skills and really the animal sensory parts of your brain in a much more deeply present way than how people typically approach learning their environment.
There was a time when in order to live and survive on planet earth… human beings required a very deep level of knowledge and awareness about everything from plants to birds and animals.
We had to be capable of reading a landscape and using the information present in order to make decisions about where to find food, where to make camp, what’s happening with the weather?
One of my mentors put it in terms of like if you think about it… in order to survive in that kind of environment… you would need to have the equivalent of multiple phd’s in plants, tracking, ornithology, all by age 13.
This is an incredible level of depth where the actual lifestyle of our own ancestors depended on deeply tuning in with the plants and the birds and the animals… in a way that basically doesn’t even exist any more in the modern technological world.
How did they do that?
I’ve been exploring this question for many years now and putting together some models of what is in my experience a really very straightforward psychology behind how the human brain evolved with the help of the 5 senses and learning strategies that work with the structure of the human brain in order to train the senses and find patterns in what we see, hear, feel and do outside in nature.
And if you can simply apply this sensory psychology then what you’ll find is you really have some amazing instincts for what’s happening with the plants, birds and animals of your local landscape.
There’s this idea that was shared with me very early on in my journey exploring the skills of nature that basically says…
“Awakening your senses and your observation skills in nature… it’s not just about learning facts about trees. It will actually change who you are and how your mind works on a very deep level.
So yes you will build knowledge of the plants and the trees and birds and animals. You learn how nature works as a big interconnected system.
But what you really learn is how to think like a naturalist genius. You learn to solve problems with your observation skills and see things beyond the surface.”
This is often what I find that people are actually missing when they want to explore plants, and birds, and outdoor skills on a deeper level is really this brain based learning strategy and deeper psychology behind how do you actually go deep with these skills?
The kind of education that’s required in order to reach this level of depth and perception in nature is really very different from what’s typically used in modern public schools or universities for example.
If you look at hunter gatherer cultures still present in south america, or parts of the african continent, and in a less intensive way in places where the people still live in small villages very close to the land…
You would find that there’s a particular way that knowledge of nature and ways of thinking about nature gets passed down from generation to generation.
They educate their kids very differently than what happens in our modern public school systems.
And if you actually went to one of those communities right now it might even appear as though they aren’t doing any education at all.
Because there’s no classrooms. There’s no tests. Their schools and lessons not specifically organized in any obvious way.
But if you really start looking closely…
You would start to notice specific patterns of activity that are actually highly effective at passing down all the knowledge and natural wisdom those kids will ever need to survive and thrive… sometimes in very harsh landscapes.
If YOU can emulate those same learning strategies then you can build this very deep knowledge of the land in your own adventures afield because you’ll start using your mind in a more wild and tuned in way.
So just imagine for a minute what it would be like to be a young child living in a tribe of people who spend basically all of their time outside.
When you wake up in the morning, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you to just be out on the land having experiences with the birds and plants and animals.
You get to wander the landscape, finding food and water and different things that you need to gather.
There’s probably a little bit of work that you need to do helping out the community…
The important thing to notice is that you go out on the land and you have an experience in nature, where you’re using your eyes, and your ears, and your other senses to be immersed in the natural world.
So this is pretty basic.
It’s not really all that different from what people are doing when they go camping or hiking or bird watching.
We’ve all done this.
We’ve all spent time outside having experiences in nature.
And it’s fun.
It feels good to be out there having experiences in nature.
But there is one really significant difference between the modern recreational experience of spending time outside and the deeper indigenous experience of people who live off the land.
It has to do with what happens when you come back from having that experience in nature?
Most people… we come home from our camping and hiking experiences and we go back our usual lives. We get involved with our technology or planning the upcoming week or our favorite television shows, or paying bills or whatever it is that we have to do.
But this is not what people in a nature based culture would do.
So what happens in a culture that is really centred around nature and where the people really have that very deep level of knowledge and awareness…
When everybody comes back from their day… Instead of sitting around the television or everyone going off to their own separate area of the house…
They will actually sit around a fire and talk about everything that happened that day out on the landscape… And they will relive the stories of that day by memory.
This is what often is known as the oral tradition.
And here I’m really not talking about mythology or religion or anything like that.
I’m literally talking about the normal everyday conversations that happen between people who have a long tradition of connecting with nature.
This is really where in my experience, all the real education happens.
And the greatest opportunities for transforming awareness patterns because it creates these really amazing conversational exchanges that share knowledge and stimulate teachable moments.
So this is really the crux of what I mean when I say using a more evolutionary brain based psychology to build knowledge of plants, birds and animals of your local area.
There is a huge difference between having an experience in nature, and then coming back to your life and being wrapped up in all kinds of other things.
Versus having an experience in nature… and then talking about it with someone who is really genuinely interested in exploring the different angles… and drawing out the deeper lessons… and asking awareness questions to help you reflect on a deeper level.
It’s because simply by the fact of telling someone about what you heard and what you saw in nature with the plants and the birds and the animals… you have to re-experience all those sensory details inside your mind and mental imagery.
So if I asked you right now to tell me about the place where you live.
What is your home like?
What furniture do you have?
What kind of artwork do you have on your walls?
What color is your bedspread?
What clothes do you have in your closet and drawers…
Right now I know for a fact that you, without even looking, can go inside your mind and describe all kinds of tremendous detail about the place where you live because you know it so well.
But I also know that for the vast majority of people if I then ask you to describe your favorite place in nature.
Tell me about the trees and plants and birds in that place.
Tell me the story of a time when you were there and something cool happened?
What was the weather?
What did you see? What did you hear?
What was happening with the trees?
What was happening with the birds?
Suddenly this becomes a much more difficult task and you find that your mind is basically blank when it comes to remembering details about nature.
So, you’re definitely not alone in this.
It’s been my observation that most modern humans have actually lost the ability to hold a clear mental image of nature inside their mind to be able to think critically about birds and plants and animal behaviour and how things change through the seasons.
This is really the secret to going very deep into nature.
It’s my experience that if you can rebuild those brain connections that enable you to describe your observations to another person in such a way that they can really see what you were seeing and observe what you were observing…
This will awaken a tremendous capacity for nature observation, that really gets you deeply tuned in with your surroundings.
It’s really through this conversation where you come back from an experience in nature and then you get the story out of your head, and tell someone what happened…
It’s through this dialogue that you start to get the biggest insights and you learn what to look for, the sensory parts of your brain really start to wakeup.
This is the thing that really separates basic recreational knowledge of nature from deeply impactful wisdom of the land that gets passed down from generation to generation.
By talking about your observations and experiences with other people… you gradually start to pick up the attitudes, awareness patterns, and little tricks around what to look for, and how to look more deeply the next time you go outside.
It’s a much more active form of learning that enables you to start thinking like a naturalist genius and see things with a whole new level of perception.
So let’s actually now talk about how can you apply this whole mindset to your own landscape and I’ll give you some examples of what to look for as you’re working with plants, birds and tracking the secret lives of wild animals.
What should you actually look for when you go outside in springtime and you want to grow your awareness of plants and start using plants for things like food?
One of the things that I will do quite often is to go for a plant walk…
And you can just walk around outside and keep your eyes open for different plants that you can now start to observe over a period of time.
Quite simply, this is just about having an experience where you focus your attention on plants and really immerse your senses into a deeper recognition of plant patterns.
I really wouldn’t worry too much at this point if you can’t actually identify the plants.
ften the very first time that you see a plant, you’re not going to be able to identify it because you’re only actually seeing one stage of development.
Maybe it’s only just starting to sprout up.
So you might be able to identify some characteristics of that plant, but you’re really gonna want to actually come back to this same plant over and over again until you can really burn it into your memory.
The important thing for right now…
Your first step in the learning process is just to start having some new experiences with the plants where you focus your attention on what’s growing around you outside.
Then you can come back from that experience, and practice step #2 in the natural learning cycle.
Take a moment to actually review that plant experience in some way and contemplate what you observed on a deeper level.
So this could be with a person who is also interested in plants, and you can just tell them about what you did, where you went and what you saw.
Or if you don’t have anyone to talk to… just write it down in a journal.
And tell your story to the journal, so you can simulate a little bit of deeper reflection and pose some good questions.
What did I observe today with the plants on my walk?
What characteristics did I notice?
Where on the landscape were they growing?
Were they in the forest or out in the open sunshine?
What did I notice about the leaves?
Did I see any flowers?
What did I notice about the flowers?
Then, what would I like to investigate more closely next time I go outside to look at plants?
As you’re following this pattern of going outside to look at plants… then coming back and reviewing your observations.
You’re really starting to build that vivid mental imagery inside your brain.
You can gradually now start to look for specific edible plants like dandelion greens, Miner’s lettuce.
Look for the flowers of shrubs like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries… all these different edible berries, and really start building your relationship with those plants by revisiting them over and over again and watching them grow.
Stinging nettles, chickweed, a lot of plants from the mustard family or the mint family are really great wild edibles.
These are all different opportunities that are very likely to be present in your landscape, and you can just start by picking one or two plants to observe really closely…
Then eventually when you’re confident of how to identify those plants… you can start to incorporate those plants into your diet.
And really continue this process of having new experiences… progressively deeper experiences… and then harvesting the lessons each and every time you come back.
It’s a really easy and effective way to move forward at any stage of learning about plants.
So that’s the world of spring foraging.
If you have questions about any of this we’ll do Q&A in just a few minutes and I’d love to talk with you about how you can get started with the plants in your landscape.
So hang tight for that.
Now let’s talk about how this works when you want to learn about the birds.
It’s really the exact same thing that we just did with plants… only this time we’re going to focus our attention on having an experience with the birds!
And we’re specifically going to be looking and tuning our awareness to things like:
What’s happening with the birds right now?
What are they doing?
What sounds are they making?
Where are they spending most of their time?
Are they hanging out in groups?
Are they pairing up and getting ready for nesting season?
You’ll notice that this is a time of year when lots of really interesting things are happening around migration as new birds are coming back from the south.
They’re starting to sing and the males are courting the females.
There’s territorial behaviour as the birds are fighting with each other over space and food resources.
These are all things that happen with the birds in spring.
They’re all fairly simple things to observe, but you’ll notice that you probably won’t observe them all the very first time that you go outside.
So if you really want to go deep with birds… one of the best things you can do is to have this ongoing routine of observation and reflection over a period of time.
Just like what we’ve been talking about.
Whenever you come back from your bird experiences… don’t immediately switch over to everyday life mode… It’s gonna be so much more rewarding to take 5 or 10 minutes and actually do some journaling about what you’re observing in the life of those birds.
Phone up a friend who is also interested in birds, and tell them what happened while you were out on your bird adventure.
What did you observe?
What caught your attention and made you curious?
Why do you think the birds were acting in that specific way?
What’s getting you curious and tuned in?
What are you excited to look for next time you go outside?
Then the next time you go out there you’ll find that you are able to observe on a much deeper level, simply because you took that time to reflect.
Then finally some spring opportunities in the world of tracking.
Just like before… we’re gonna go outside and have an experience focusing our attention on what’s happening with the animals and different tracking opportunities.
Where are the muddy spots that only exist at this time of year where you can actually practice following the trails of things like deer?
What’s happening with the food sources at this time of year?
This is a huge area of study that you can dive into.
What plants are coming into high abundance right now?
Are you seeing tulips or shrubs in the garden being browsed by animals?
Are you seeing opportunities for groundhogs and porcupines to eat clover and dandelions out on the lawn.
A lot of times things like vole populations will really explode and increase when the grasses start to grow back in full force.
And that has an effect on the predators both aerial predators and ground predators like coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and weasels.
So food tracking can really be one of the biggest adventures at this time of year, even if you can’t find actual tracks or live sightings of animals.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of animals are giving birth at this time of year so they’re going to be a little bit more anchored to a spot where they can safely have their young and care for them in those early days when they’re most vulnerable.
So if you live in a place that has things like deer, where would you go if you needed a safe place to give birth?
How does that question change the way that you look at your surroundings?
You can let those kinds of seasonal questions drive your observations… and then just like before, when you come back from your tracking adventures… don’t let those memories fade. That’s the most important thing.
Phone a friend. Grab a journal.
And get those observations out of your head.
Because sometimes you don’t even realize what you actually experienced until you’re back home sharing with another person or writing it all down in a journal… that’s really the thing that’s going to inspire you and help you to look progressively deeper every single time you go outside.
So what I’d like to do for the rest of our time together today is just get really practical with you.
Because I think that’s going to be the most helpful thing that we could possibly do here.
Let’s actually do some of this conversational education right here on the phone.
We’ve talked about a lot of different things today and if you have a question about anything we’ve been discussing…
Or if you’d like to talk more about any of the specific skills like foraging or understanding birds, or learning about the animals of your area… I’d love to just know what’s on your mind.