Friday, May 20, 2011

Feral Food

On the back edge of the cleared section of the property, near the dip in the land where water likes to collect on rainy days, there is a thicket. A wild, untamed, overgrown, ferocious bit of foilage and felled trees. It's unlike the deeper part of the forest where the ground is mostly clear save for old barren branches who's leaves had been suffocated from the thick canopy and the odd shade-tolerant bush. In the thicket there are no tall trees to hamper the strong, sharp rays of the hot summer sun. Here food grows wild.

For over a week, I have traveled a now well worn path though the brambles, over stumps and under trees to search for the newly ripe blackberries that grow here. My arms are scratched and bleeding, my fingers stained as raspberry as my muck boots, my shoulders are deeply tanned. By now I have an order to my wild harvest, I have a map in my brain where I left the pink berries the day before that are sure to be ripening. I have a method. Every day I have been outside, sometimes in the early morning, before the the sun has risen above the tree line in the East, shading me from the tremendous heat while leaving the berries cool with spots of morning dew. I linger as long as I'm able.

Sometimes, I can only get out in the afternoon. This is when I work hard and fast to get as much I can in the shortest time. The jar of iced tea I bring with me is warm by the time I'm done about an hour later. The purple gems are hot, bursting with flavor that can only be seasoned by the sun. You can taste life then.

Every day I have a helper. A four year old that understands and is enraptured by the idea of feral food. Armed with her sipppy cup of ice water, a prarie bonnet and a little wicker basket, she dons her hot pink rainboots and tromps through the grasses to the edge of the thicket.

We have found, by a series of mistakes and injuries, the best way to harvest the biggest fruit. Neoprene coated garden gloves save my hands a bit but make my fingers clumsy. Using a stick to hold back the tall thorny stalks help us reach otherwise unattainable berries. Thick pants and tall boots are a must. Hats and bonnets keep the sun out of our eyes all the better to spy those fat, juice ones that hang down into the shade.

Every single day for a week we have gone outside with empty baskets and come back triumphant. Most days we gather about a pound of lucious fruit. Our best day was over two and a half pounds. During all this physical labor I have much time to think. I have decided that gathering food this way is a direct link to our heritage. I feel at peace, even in the blazing sun and above 90 degree heat. I feel connected to something that is older and richer than myself. At my side, Amelia is exhuberant and delighted as she spots berry after berry. I feel good about sharing this gift of the Earth with her.

I also feel sad. Disappointed, I suppose that wild harvesting food has been neglected with our current generation. That I haven't had the opportunity to be taught by my ancestors -as they would have done- what is safe, when things come into season and what I can do with the food nature provides. I miss what has been and confused as to how I can regain that knowledge. After the discovery of yet another wild food on the premesis, passion fruit, I am anxious to learn what other edible delights are right out my back door.

These berries are amazing. They are nature's bounty, survival of the fittest. The berries I harvest are genetically superior as years of unimpeded growth have squashed the weaker vines. These berries, when fat and ripe, hang heavy on the vines, shaded by the leaves, obscuring any notice from birds or other animals. They have survived without man's chemicals, taming or interference and are all the better for it.

With the rise in gas and food prices, finding the treasure of a thicket such as this is an opportunity not to be missed. Any little way we can contribute to lowering demand for shipping and chemical farming makes the Earth just a little happier and our lives a little richer. And the opportunity to harvest quality time with those you love, is something I now can't live without.