Friday, August 9

alive and abundant

Last summer, about a month before her first birthday, we took Wren to pick wild blueberries on a hill not so far from here.  It was like the scene from Willy Wonka where the kids discover they can lick frosting out of mushrooms and harvest lollipop crops and lap from a chocolate river.  In her own enchanted forest, Wren toddled frantically behind us, grabbing handfuls of leaves and sticks and the occasional blueberry from the bushes, and begging with grunts and an open palm for the loot in our buckets.
So this summer we headed back out to the wild blueberry bushes (and huckleberry too) with a taller and more verbose Wren who has become quite skilled at foraging for wild edibles with her father.  And some new rules which include "you can only eat what YOU pick from the bushes" and "no eating out of the buckets" (I may or may not have picked up this parenting tip from Blueberries for Sal).
Luke is very interested in foraging for wild plants and incorporating them into our diet.  Many weekends we venture out into some ecosystem where he knows we can find some precious morsel that thrives for a brief season every year: mushrooms of all sorts (I found my very first morel this spring!), birch for tea, stinging nettles, dandelion, nuts, pine pollen, many of the 'weeds' that grow along with our vegetables and herbs, berries berries berries, spring water straight from the rocks, and even that pesky garlic mustard are among our family favorites.
spring water 'harvesting'
But he's constantly learning new plants and bringing them to the table.  It feels royal, almost absurdly lavish to enjoy such rare treats for free, and in abundance.  And as renters who have very limited gardening opportunities, it allows us to be a bit less dependent on the grocery stores, even without a vegetable garden of our own.
a praying mantis exploring the berry bushes along with us
Luke is cautious and meticulous about identifying plants, avoiding anything growing in areas sprayed by herbicides and pesticides, and preparing the things he forages correctly.  We have had many conversations about how to introduce Wren to wild edibles safely.  She knows the drill very well now: you must ask mommy and daddy if it's ok to eat anything you pick off of a plant.  So it's inevitable that on any given hike or bike ride or walk she will bring us some specimen clutched in her grimy palm and ask "this ok?"  And if there is any doubt whatsoever in our minds the answer is a resounding "nope!"
"this ok?"
But what I have found most astounding and incredible is that our hungry little 2-year-old is learning these plants and foods right along with me...some times even faster than me!  She can identify nearly every vegetable growing the dinky little beds outside our house, and even some plants that we see often in our adventures in the woods.  And of course she is berry connoisseur, of berries both domestic and wild!
After a trip to the mulberry trees...
and a berry-themed birthday celebration!
So as Luke learns more and more about the plants all around us, and we discover new foods that we love to eat, he is increasingly excited to share the knowledge that there is rich, abundant, health-ful foods growing wherever we look.  He (and some of his friends) have begun to offer 'weed walks' to anyone else who wants to know about the plants they pass in their yards, along the roads, in the woods.
The conversations are lively and interesting, and it's inevitable that someone there will be familiar with a medicinal or edible component of a certain plant that is new to the rest of us.  The whole thing makes me all warm and buzzy-excited inside, a lot like seed-sharing and fabric swaps.
As usual, the alive-ness of it all it brings to mind a poem.  This time a poem that I wrote, one evening after a foraging adventure with Luke and Wren under the summer sun:

In the summer
at day’s end
we notice our salted skin
(how it clings and crusts as silt deposits)
touch lightly the tomato-red sheen in that space just below the eyes,
at cheek’s peak
deep lines of chocolate brown beneath fingernails
and plastered into the creases of our necks

Wearied bodies.  Sticking flesh.  Warmed and weighted eyes.  The smell of ourselves.
We are caked and moistened from the soil that draws up seeds to plants
and the damp places that quench them lavishly.
The water runs murkily off us and we watch its browness against the porcelain sink.

Who was it that likened sin to dirt?  Who declared purity a vast white void?
Who never noticed the gospel of a body
in the summer
at day’s end?

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