“Think Little”

By , August 28, 2012

I recently read Wendell Berry’s excellent essay, Think Little (from A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural, check your local independent bookstore for a copy). Berry’s thoughts and suggestions in this piece, and the observations of other thinkers and authors, have helped crystalize my own thoughts about the point of view that influences the way my family lives. Perhaps the time has come to present that philosophy here on the blog, maybe even introduce it as a new category for future expansion.

The concept of Thinking Little may be considered another expression of simple living, but with a slightly more clarifying emphasis. Berry suggests that the American motto: “Think Big,” should become “Think Little.” He urges us to change the way we conceptualize what we need or want, to turn away from pursuing the biggest, the best, and the most of everything to pursue only what works best for us.

I can hardly think of a better illustration of this concept than Boletus Edilus, the king bolete mushroom we hunt in our forest at this time of year.

boletus edilus

Some of these could have grown into big honkers, but we ate them small and young (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Arguably the most delectable mushroom, I’ve described the boletes qualities previously. Part of what makes this mushroom more precious is its transience. It is a favorite food of flies and other bugs, some of which lay eggs in the fungus, which develop rapidly into tiny maggots that consume the ‘shroom from the inside out. Often, maggots will infest a bolete before it even breaks the surface of the soil.

At the same time, boletes can grow to huge proportions. The amount of mushroom flesh a forager may find varies markedly as a tiny button grows to a full grown mushroom. The question becomes, how big can it get before it’s corrupted by the insects that seek it as avidly as the mycologist? On rare occasions, we find large boletes that the bugs have completely missed. We’ve found fresh specimens large enough to feed two people.

However, because the insects are so common (and because they never sleep) we have to fight against our American desire for the biggest and the most. Our best strategy is to harvest whatever we find as soon as we find it. We dare not leave a good bolete for even an hour. If this means settling for less mushroom, so be it.

“Settling” may not be the correct word. While we may miss out on a sense of pride or triumph from finding a massive mushroom, the small, freshest boletes are far better than the more mature specimens. Their flesh is as firm and crisp as a young turnip, and their flavor is superior to their elders. A smaller but better bite seems best.

As with boletes, so too with other aspects of our lives. Perhaps not the latest fashions, but good, sturdy, reliable clothing. A good, useful car or truck will almost always serve far better than a luxury car. While enough money can provide a certain level of security, massive amounts seem to create problems, possibly even dissatisfaction.

Here on our “homestead” we tend to Think Little. We’ll touch on this theme often in the future, I’m sure.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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