These days, some folks bemoan attachment to social media, especially when it involves a loved one who seems to always have his or her eyes on a smartphone, checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. On a more serious note, in recent months, Twitter has become a political platform, while Facebook has been accused of being a vehicle for misinformation and actually has been implicated in scandals related to the 2016 election.
Despite the annoying to shocking aspects of social media, there are those who have found satisfying, informative communities via the medium. Bryan Gronemeir is such a person. I first ran into Bryan in September, when he was juicing veggies for sale at the Farmory in Columbia. Posted on a small blackboard at his booth was a sign that read, “Ask about Hiking and Foraging Finds.”
So I asked. And Bryan told me about the Facebook group he started that is called “Hiking and Foraging Finds.” The most striking piece of information he provided that day was that his group had more than 35,000 members. That was in September. Today the group has 42,546 members.
What in the world does Bryan offer that would gather so many members?
Neither Bryan nor I had time to explore the answer to that question at the time, but I promised to check out the group and come back and talk with him again, because my curiosity was piqued.
I was especially interested when he explained that the group isn’t just about foraging in the traditional sense – as in looking for food or provisions. Bryan and his compatriots in the Facebook group are also interested in finding artifacts. To quote the guidelines for the group, folks can post “unique and spontaneous discoveries found while exploring outside in nature.”
For instance, the suggestions as to what is appropriate to post mention antique soda or beer cans and bottles, old abandoned vehicles or vehicle parts, amazing geological formations or even abandoned structures. While posting photos of human artifacts is acceptable, the majority of the posts reveal natural phenomena that hikers come upon, such as unusual tree formations, fossils, strange lichen growths or playful wildlife.
I have to admit that once I was approved to join the group, I felt as if I had fallen down a rabbit hole, because I just kept going deeper and deeper to inspect the various finds and read the stories that accompany them.
Among my favorites are:
• A trail of huge bear prints in the sand along Lake Superior.
• The periodic posting of a “lost sole,” as in the sole of shoe, clearly an inside joke that members enjoy finding and sharing.
• A gal from southwestern New York posted her successful personal hiking challenge to find the rainbow in nature – ROYGBIV, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. She posted a collage of finds that included everything from red berries to an orange mushroom, a blue plastic tie on a tree and deep magenta stalks.
• Julie from Canada posted colorful photographs with this description: “Ultimate Foragers feel-good bath! Pinecones and needles, boiled, strained and poured into a warm bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and baking soda! Pour into bathwater; do not rinse and air dry. I dry the strained product for use in decorations, potpourri and fire starters.”
• And I adore the simply amazing photos of mushrooms found in the forest – big fat puffballs, tiny delicate specimens and old familiars like oyster ’shrooms on a tree and later at home frying in a pan.
Which brings us back to Bryan and his story about starting this group, which, not surprisingly, has something to do with foraging for mushrooms. Bryan has only lived permanently in Tuolumne County since July, but his family has had a vacation home in Leisure Pines for years. He is a big, gregarious guy with a quick mind and amazing interests and ideas – especially thoughts about how to enjoy the natural world and live as simply, efficiently and economically as possible.
When I caught up with him by phone after our meeting at the Farmory, I got the scoop on how his worldview and life experience congealed in the formation of the “Hiking and Foraging Finds” group on Facebook.
“I’m a mushroom hunter – in every season,” he explained. “I’m interested in what the body has to say about mushrooms, be they edible, medicinal or poisonous. My interest was biology and, more particularly, mycology.”
That was Bryan’s interest, but as a student at California State University, Monterey Bay, he studied human communications. Nevertheless, he took every opportunity to hike and forage in the nearby woods of Big Sur and Nisene Marks State Park near Aptos.
“And I found other things besides mushrooms – artifacts,” Bryan declared. “I take a lot of photos, which I thought somebody else might be interested.”
So Bryan started a Facebook group and invited about 100 mushroom-loving friends he already knew online to check it out.
“Overnight there were 500 members,” Bryan exclaimed. “By the second day, another 500 had joined.”
So Bryan was right, people are interested, for now there are nearly 43,000 members from all over the world. Moreover, it is in the Facebook group that Bryan’s degree in human communications merged with his love of nature.
While I fell down a rabbit hole perusing thousands of alluring posts, talking with Bryan about the evolution and dynamics of the group was more like climbing a spiral staircase to reach more awesome views.
One of the first things I noticed when visiting the site was how frequently Bryan comments on – or at least “liked” – the numerous daily posts in the group that he created. He continues to serve as an administrator.
We all love to have our Facebook posts noted, so Bryan’s responses surely encourage participation. And while he is enthusiastic and kind about participation, he is also judiciously caring for the well-being of this group. For instance, the site was initially called “Hunting and Foraging Finds.” The term “hunting,” of course, invited hunters. Since Bryan’s original intention was to provide a place to post “inspiring, unique, unexpected, spontaneous and peculiar finds while hiking,” the appearance of photos of hunting kills came as a surprise.
Being a democratic administrator, however, Bryan surveyed the group to decide if members wished to include those types of posts. When a majority answered “No,” he changed the name of the group to substitute “hiking” for “hunting,” and posted more clearly in the guidelines pinned to the top of the page that this group is for sharing “spontaneous finds,” and kill photos would be deleted.
This helped better define the tone of the page and furthered the sense of a warm and welcoming community with a shared purpose. Indeed, the sense of community has grown exponentially, and Bryan now shares administrative and moderator responsibilities with six other members. As in all communities, a sense of belonging and caring develops, and that means when something happens to a member, it ripples through the entire virtual society, touching everyone.
Not long ago, a beloved member, Faye Hanson, who was also a moderator, went missing during a hike and was later found to have fallen, been injured and died of hypothermia. The far-reaching group was shaken and heartbroken, as evidenced by hundreds of posts responding to the loss.
In honor of Faye, Bryan changed the group banner to include a lovely forest scene with the words “Remember Faye” emblazoned across the photo. Moreover, he started another group entitled “Hiking and Foraging Safety and Survival,” which already has 802 members.
That’s the thing about Bryan Gronemeir, he transforms his interests, concerns and passions into his life’s work. This column has focused on the fascinating Facebook community he has built; all you hikers and foragers should check it out.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for a future column about Bryan’s work related to a cooperative sharing of food. The guy is a volcano when it comes to erupting with fantastic, imaginative ways to enjoy and better the world, be it on Facebook or right here in our blessed Mother Lode.
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