Living With a Nature Lover

My husband has four pairs of glasses. He also has three toothbrushes, three different kinds of shampoo, and an entire duffel bag full of health and beauty aids that he carries around with him whenever he goes on overnight trips.

It’s not that he has multiple personalities. He just needs to have lots of things, because he never has time to figure out where he mislaid anything. So it’s easiest just to have several versions of everything and to carry as much stuff as possible all of the time, in case he ever needs any of it.

Why doesn’t Russ have the time to figure out where any of his possessions are? Because he’s too busy having fun — running from one exciting project to the next, playing outside before the sun goes down, flinging a breakfast pizza into his mouth while driving to a work meeting, after which he plans to go cross-country skiing before heading off to the mushroom club meeting.

Russ’s mother likes to tell a story about when he was in first grade and his teacher commented that, “Russ never has time to take off his coat and put his lunchbox neatly in his cubby. He’s too busy thinking about more important things, like the stars and the planets.” Some 40 years later, I can testify that the little first-grader in Russ hasn’t gone away. He still runs from one experience to the next, drinking up life with an almost chaotic gusto that I’ve rarely seen in anyone.

One of Russ’s greatest passions is foraging for edible wild plants and mushrooms. It brings out the best of the sensual beast in him. He has often reminded me of a bear, rummaging around in a swamp for cattails, or pawing in the sand for clams, occasionally slurping a raw one on the spot before moving on to the next place to dig. When we go on hikes in the summer or fall, he scampers off the path like a dog, bounding through the woods towards some delectable mushroom that he has spied from a distance, then circling back to arrive ahead of me and our hiking companions on the trail, proud to show off the prize that he has retrieved.

No one could ever accuse Russ of lacking enthusiasm. His love of finding, digging, picking, and eating wild things is so consuming that sometimes it seems all else is secondary. He often comes home from a day’s work with twigs in his hair, burrs on his pants, and stains on his shirt. I’ll give him a stern look and say, “Did you go to your meeting like that?”

The results of his passion for collecting usually make their way into our kitchen refrigerator until they can be dried, frozen, steamed or otherwise put by for later use. Countless times I have opened the refrigerator door to unpack groceries, only to be confronted by a huge pile of cattails stems waiting to be processed, or the latest grocery bag stuffed with Japanese knotweed shoots to be peeled, or a tray full of luscious brown bolete mushrooms, replete with the slugs and bugs that so often like to piggyback on foraged goodies.

As with everything that Russ does, he occasionally gets too distracted with all that is going on to deal with a project to its completion. In some cases I finish the processing work that needs to be done to store an item for future use. Or, sometimes I “accidentally” drop a moldering bag into the compost pile. Or, if the item is small and innocuous enough, I leave it alone in its little container. Once, Russ stowed away a bottle of barberry juice he planned to use for sauce or jam or ice cream or some such culinary experiment. About 10 months later, he discovered it, tucked in the back of a shelf in the refrigerator. Opening the bottle, he took a tentative sniff, then a sip, after which he broke out in a maniacal laugh of glee. He had unintentionally made the best tasking barberry wine he could imagine!

Moments in our household are never dull, and are often serendipitously joyful. It was our mutual love of nature and the outdoors that brought my husband and me together. And it is his wild, slightly unpredictable, and always unconventional inner nature that keeps me in love with him.

Ellen Vliet Cohen is a former journalist and technical writer who now has a massage therapy practice at Serenity Yoga and Wellness Center in Bedford, MA. She can be reached at