Forest Friday with Luke Cannon

I met Luke Cannon near Bent Creek for our Forest Friday hike. Luke has over 20 years experience as a naturalist, teacher, and student and is the founder of Astounding Earth.

There was a notable chill in the air, but the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day for a hike. Bent Creek is often busy with mountain bikers, hikers, and people walking their dogs, but we didn’t see anyone else on the trail. We took a winding path across a small creek and up a small hill towards the lake. The trees around Bent Creek have vines that spiral elegantly up their narrow trunks. There’s an abundance of sourwoods there, and the ground still had a thick blanket of fallen leaves that crunched under us as we walked.

Luke Cannon discovered early on that, “wild spaces really calmed the storms in me.”

Luke had two important mentors in his youth who shifted his worldview and changed his relationship to nature forever.

The first one is a man named Ricardo Sierra who runs a program in New York state called Hawk Circle. Luke spent a month with him in the woods when he was fourteen. During that month, Ricardo taught Luke the names and identities of many plants and showed him which ones were edible. 

Luke’s other mentor, Frank Cook, was an ethnobotanist, activist, and educator. He taught many classes on food as medicine and believed people should eat one wild thing a day. Luke said:

“I spent more than a decade trying to spend as much time as possible with Frank Cook. We shared time learning about plants as food and as medicine, but also as friends, all over much of the United States.”

Luke spent a number of years doing social work in the inner-city of Washington, DC, but he wanted to be able reach and help people in a more profound way.

Around this same time he was in a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken leg and severe burns on his hands. He had a lot of time to think.

Luke said:

“All I could see first-hand was that my life was greatly changed by my experience in the woods and by developing a deeper relationship with the natural world. I wanted to see how I could potentially facilitate that for other people.”

Luke went back to his beginnings and reconnected with his first mentor, Ricardo Sierra to deepen his connection and knowledge of the wild plant world.

We paused here in the conversation because we found a patch of vibrant orange polypore mushrooms. Luke pulled out a pocket magnifying glass so I could take a deeper look at all the details. Polypore mushrooms, like the name would imply, have tubes or pores on their underside instead of gills. Not all polypores are closely related.

Polypore mushrooms often grow on wood and aid in wood decomposition.

“Astounding Earth is my attempt at helping to make up for what I see as a huge lack in environmental education and eco-literacy in our culture. I open up spaces for people to feel connected. One of the things I love about teaching wild edibles is it really gives people a personal way to experience a plant, mushroom or even a lichen, because once you harvest, touch, smell and taste something, you make a deeper connection with it. You’re using a lot more senses than just your eyes to examine and ‘know’ something.”

In March, Luke will be teaching a class on Wild Edibles at the Organic Grower’s School.

Sign up for Luke’s class today!

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