A fun outdoor activity, a way to have a healthy meal, refined torture — a popular Belarusian pastime of berry and mushroom hunting embraces every life color, depending on one’s angle on that rich cultural tradition. And it can be an especially tricky thing for a city-type of man.
“No, I am not doing this. Period.” Why would anyone wander around the woods looking for mushrooms or berries if you can just go to a grocery store or a local market? They have everything when it’s season: lingonberries, even wild strawberries sometimes.
No, that’s not gonna happen, and I don’t care if my friends or family need that perfect pair of hands. Weekends are for Netflix and chill! Just no. Go find someone who loves slave labor among trees and gnats.
Berry-picking in Belarus tends to begin in mid-July, but climate change shifts the season to a later date each year. The mushroom season usually starts at the same time, but you may be lucky enough to find ripe mushrooms as early as mid-May.
Everyone must have lost their mind. I suspected it was crap entertainment, and I was right. The weather’s terrible, and yet we’re sweating. We poured all kinds of insect repellent on ourselves, and still, my hands and forehead are gnawed. Berry harvesters are prohibited, so one has to spend hours curled up like a shrimp. My back is gonna kill me, that’s for sure.
It’s aren’t any better with mushrooms either. I didn’t know there was poisonous russula and wouldn’t have distinguished them from edible ones if I had a million attempts. Did you know that almost every edible mushroom has a “doppelganger” that is dangerous to your body?
Great, just great.
There are dozens of species of toxic wild mushrooms and berries growing in Belarus. Whenever a mushroom or a berry cannot be identified with absolute certainty, it must not be eaten or even picked.
I should have listened to the voice of reason in my head and stayed home. I could do anything — like lying on the couch. There’s nothing wrong with being a couch potato. But I can tell for sure what is wrong — dragging your feet through a swampy moss full of food that you don’t like very much when you come to think about it.
I’d trade that damn basket for the cheapest burger and a glass of soda without a moment’s hesitation.
The clothing and footwear are important as Belarusian summer can be highly unpredictable. Even when it is hot, it is best to wear clothing that covers the skin, for scratches and mosquito and gnat bites can be nasty.
I feel like this is never gonna end. I consulted a watch, then I was shuffling among trees again for what seemed like an eternity, then I looked at the time again — it’s been like five minutes.
It can’t be true, I must have gotten got into some strange Belarusian limbo, a personal purgatory for urbanites who thought that they were tough enough to conquer the countryside. Now I’m doomed to wander in the woods forever, and I will see nothing but trees, branches, and moss.
Virtually any mushroom one can find in Belarus grows in the vast forest area between Lohoysk, Pleshchenitsy, and Zembin. And the Polesie region is incredibly rich in all kinds of forest berries.
Just take a look in my basket. I never thought I’d be able to do that — four hours of hard work it has never looked so beautiful.
No, picking mushrooms and berries is not limbo. It is special Belarusian zen, which can be learned only by the most persistent ones. It’s a way to clear your head and reunite with the great outdoors that you can never experience watching YouTube videos in the office.
This is not to mention the fact that some Belarusians manage to pay off loans for housing by selling the collected blueberries. I’m not that clever — I’ll just eat my trophies.
I deserved it.
Anton Ananich suffered for this text.