Sunday, December 03, 2006

Another oldie but goodie:

Since I was a kid, my primary entertainment has been whatever's going on outdoors. My dad was quite the outdoorsman and my mom was too, when she was fit enough. She is still very attuned to the weather and the natural world in her own way, my dad even more so.
When I was a few months old I was out on their backs in a little baby backpack with a fly whistling past my ears from a flyrod. Our outings were to the clear rocky streams of Central Texas with a cooler full of food and beer.
We spent weeks on the Texas Coast in the summer. You want a purifying experience... sheesh. The glory of a beach sunrise is balanced by an ocean of intimate sand and salt, biting flies and man-o-war and relentless, murderous midday heat. I am hopelessly spoiled to fresh-caught shrimp, fish and crab. I spent hours in the waves, body-surfing with the mullets and investigating the rich microcosm of the shallows. In the mornings I would walk until I was tired on beach, entranced by shells and the raucous lyricism of the gulls and skimmers.

In June in Texas, the thermometer spikes to 100 degrees and it does not come back down on a regular basis until nearly October. By September, 90 F is a cool breeze.

Here in Indiana that seems so very far away, the days are in the 80s but the air is literally soggy. Astonishingly enough, I experienced some deep pangs of homesickness for the intense blaze of the Texas sun accompanied by the cool waters of the pristine San Marcos River. If I went and sat in the oven for about an hour and then took a cold shower I might be able to accomplish the feeling if not the scenery..

One of my deepest interests is foraging for wild foods. We used to pick grapes on the riverside from my dad's johnboat (a flat-bottomed aluminum craft) and make grape jelly, a tradition I have taken with me. I try not to turn the kitchen nearly so purple now as my mom and I did as we extracted the powerfully acid muscadine, or "mustang" grape juice.

Here in Indiana, the earth is incredibly rich and, wonder of wonders to this lifetime semidesert rat, it rains on a regular basis. Big black clouds gush cold rain onto rich earth, and the result is a disregarded bounty in the parks and waste places.

Early in spring I became obsessed with finding morels. I found them. It is more like a hunt than any gathering I have engaged in previously. They have a rich earthy mushroomy taste, but truly finding them is actually more exciting than eating them. Not that I won't squabble for my share, mind you!

I made a mushroom and rice dish that I fed to our dear guest instructors Goyo Ohmi and Eric Tribe at Wood and Steel III when they arrived from Canada. Cooked morels look a bit like tired octopus (tako if you eat sashimi) but taste much better. I found nearly 50 morels all told, not bad for a beginner. I wait happily for next morel season and spy out new hunting spots with the gusto of a lioness eyeing a watering hole.

Later in the spring, I found raspberries! O rare treat indeed! I gathered and gathered and made some delicious seedy raspberry jam. Chuck doesn't like berries so I suppose that will be around for a while. Next year perhaps I will make a cordial. June came and the acres of blackberries at a local city park ripened. Monica and Chuck and I filled my largest basket with the brambly treats, and I made cobbler, jam, and froze about three gallons for Martin to make into wine. Then, in August, the wild cherries started to ripen. These are things better gathered with a stick and a sheet, but I picked them by hand. Have to be careful with wild cherries, they contain toxic prussic acid and unless you're going to cook them thoroughly they have to be meticulously de-stemmed and pitted. But they make _delicious_ jam. Yum!
Shortly after the cherry adventure, Chuck and I ventured to Eagle Creek and picked about a gallon of river grapes. I made a tart and lively jam with them. I have another batch of them in the sink which I hope to hand over to Martin for making into wine. He keeps talking about making something called a "lambic" which I am curious about.

I gathered some apples this morning as well, it's a wonder to me why people will spend money on the toxic, mealy waxy things at the store and never glance at these trees groaning under a burden of creamy crunchy sweet tartness. There's not much like this in Texas, that's for damnsure!I wait like a kid waiting for Christmas for my very first Fall.

In Texas you know it's fall when the leaves leave tiny smoke trails from the trees as they burn from the branches under the ferocious sun. Here, the bright green of summer has faded dull and hints at gold and scarlet round the edges. For her birthday I sent my mom a card with some early brilliant leaves in it.

You knew I might get political.. the deepest passions of the soul are what we bring to our politics, after all. If you knew that the government was participating in subsidizing the sale of toxic or non-beneficial substances, that it was denuding forests in Brazil so that we could pay less for something that is killing us, would you chalk it up to Darwinism and hope it didn't raise your health insurance costs? If you were hungry, if you couldn't afford to go to the grocery or pay rent for a kitchen, what would you do?Do you have the knowledge to support yourself? Can you walk outside your door and identify even three things that grow wild that would nourish you? Do you trust the government, which is subsidizing beef (ground water? trees? topsoil? who needs it?) and tobacco (nicotine is a standard ingredient in rat poison and is the most addictive substance we have around) to make it easy for you to get food that is delicious, clean and good for you? I'll brush good clean earth off any edible and bring it home a prize, but you can't get me to eat things from a street or sidewalk or any drive-through. Perhaps it is my personal rebellion, I love to look outside and see a world my species adapted to hunting and gathering in, so generous with its bounty when you know where to look. To walk in the woods and know that the cherry tree will give me treats, the hickory will give me protein both from its fruit and the squirrels who get so fat on them, to know that a little yarrow will smell wonderful and ease mosquito bites, to know that I might find a sassafras leaf to rub between my fingers and sniff and savor, this is home to me.
I see children raised by the media who think, like their damnfool parents, that the outdoors is a giant toilet, and I want to show them exactly what they are shitting on. People ask me what I am picking, is that edible? Their grandmothers likely made jam or jelly from these same plants, but we have forgotten.
They have no conception of the part they play in their world. They have fallen for what Daniel Quinn, in _The Story of B_ calls "the big lie" that humans are separate from nature. We are not. We may scent ourselves artificially and never eat anything that hasn't seen a butcher, factory, or megafarm, but we are still hyperactive, noisy predatory apes.
For some reason humans have become accustomed to a diet of clowns and music videos, we eat what is "cool" to eat and pay no attention to the needs of our bodies or spirits, when what the cells of the body actually encounter is actually a mixture of monocropped, overfed, chemical-laden chaff and lard. I love a good steak but I'd like wild venison better. I drink wine and beer and good scotch, I use olive oil and garlic in abundance and my mate is a fabulous Southern cook.
But what I love best is something I or my mate caught, made, and served to my family with my own hands. I love sharing what I know, knowing that understanding how delicious wild grapes and apples are might save tiny spaces of what I love from greed and stupidity, at least for my short lifetime.

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