I decided to work fewer hours than usual this summer. What a privilege this was. I live in Downeast, Maine. Coastal Maine people usually work much harder in summers than at other times of year. It is during summer, when millions of vacationers descend upon our beautiful state (our license plates read “Vacationland”), that many make the lion’s share of their annual income. Mainers endure a long winter and a muddy, buggy spring only to have the glorious summer bring long hours and hard work. So I’m quite aware that I am blessed to have been able to fully enjoy this magnificent but brief time in Maine.
I had lots of plans for the summer. These were some of them:
• to research, write, and compile my next book on education
• to tend my garden
• to go on paddleboarding adventures on remote streams, rivers, and ponds
• to sit for 30 minutes a day observing nature
• to swim regularly in the ocean and in ponds
• to get/stay in good shape and hike lots of mountains, as well as to regularly run up our local 950’ mountain
• to learn and regularly go mushrooming for wild edibles
I did not manage to accomplish all these things. My book is far from complete; I haven’t been on the paddleboard since mid-July; I ran up the mountain only twice and didn’t get into particularly great shape. I swam about half as much as I’d hoped. I sat and observed nature perhaps 30 minutes per week on average, rather than per day.
My garden and peach trees, however, are bursting with food, and I gathered at least 40 pounds of wild mushrooms, which I enjoyed immensely and happily shared with others. I learned quite a bit about wild mushrooms and mushrooming and was thrilled to find and collect delectable chanterelles, gourmet trumpet mushrooms, and my favorite chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms.
When I think about the bucket list and notice what I didn’t fully accomplish (there is, after all, just so much time in a day), I realize that, while I could feel disappointed that I didn’t achieve all my goals, I am instead delighted that I learned a new skill, one that I will be developing over years to come.
My big lesson from this summer is that learning something new is deeply pleasurable and fulfilling and that learning leads to more learning. I also discovered the limits of book learning. While I learned much from mushrooming books, I learned different lessons in the woods, ones that continue to expand the more time I spend looking down at my feet (for trumpets), side to side to find the dead oaks (for chicken-of-the-woods), and scanning in an arc for bright yellow chanterelles. I have spent much of my free time over the past 17 years in the woods, but this summer of mushrooming was a brand new experience and education.
So here’s to lifelong learning, the very best part of any bucket list I will ever create.