Can’t see the wood for the trees.

Posted: July 18, 2016 in Spiritual Journey

So, one of the things I’m doing at the moment is trying to read up on plants, herbs, trees and mushrooms. The more I think about it, the more aware I am that there is a huge untapped bounty of nourishing, helpful and occasionally dangerous life all around us. And I want to know it better, to be able to, where appropriate, make better use of these things that would otherwise go to waste.

It started last September with my spending two days elderberry picking. In part it was two days of learning how to identify and spot elderberries and I ended up with what was hopefully a non-toxic collection of berries. But that was one plant, and even then it took me two whole days to go from looking for the berries to identifying the leaves and finally spotting them from their bark and general shape. One plant. But there are hundreds of common plants, trees, shrubs. And I can’t spend that long on each surely.

So I bought a book, except that didn’t help because the pictures were too vague and same-ey, and it’s all very well reading about two dozen different plants but  there’s nothing to contextualize the reading then it’s all just quietly shoveled into that part of the brain that deals with train timetables and siblings’ birthdays.

This is a non-trivial problem and it leaves me in an embarrassing position. When walking through the park a life-long Londoner friend can name many of the trees that I, one raised in the countryside, am at a loss to identify. It’s not like there’s a simple quick fix either, identifying objects in images is a task that even the world’s leading computers and AI systems struggle with. It seems like this is a task that cannot be done quickly or easily. It’s a difficult path, which will entail countless hours of learning piecemeal and through painful, tedious study. But it’s one I’m so looking forward to.


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