Monday, July 13, 2015

Have you tasted the wild fruit?

We are staying with a friend in the mountains of Colorado. My significant other is recovering from heart surgery and dealing with medical issues. The illusion of human immortality has been broken yet again. I follow my friends on Facebook, watching the surgeries, births, deaths, and everyday struggles. I started the day like I did when I was twelve. I took a container outside and crawled around in the lawn. Why? The scent of strawberries, the vibrant splashes of red leaves and berries signaling time for harvesting.

When I was twelve I crawled around in a field next to my house, I spent hours picking berries the size of my fingernails. Each berry had a thousand times more flavor than a large, domesticated berry. It was worth the time and effort for the finest jam I ever made. This is a profound statement. I have made a lot of jams and jellies from Chai Apple Jelly to Queen Anne's Lace Jelly; to say that the wild strawberry was the finest is an impressive designation.

I am almost forty. I am crawling around and picking berries again. Smaller than my fingernails, brighter than a rose and more delicious than any fruit bought in a store. The bottom of the container slowly fills with each berry adding color and volume to the harvest.

Patience and knowledge are necessary in wild harvesting. There is nothing like finding and eating wild food. It is an experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives.

Many people talk about having 'bucket lists' of doing crazy and extreme or obscure things. I think everyone should have on their list learning to recognize wild edible plants and to go out harvesting. There are easy plants to learn: wild strawberries, elderberries, raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries, blueberries, marion berries, rose hips, puff ball mushrooms, morel mushrooms, wild leeks, wild onions, wild garlic, apples, crabapples, prickly pear, yucca fruit, rhubarb, tiger lily and nasturtium flowers. You can find wild or once domesticated herbs growing: comfrey, plantain, mustard, dandelions, mullein, cattails, cowslips, sage, rosemary, and garlic. You have to be aware of look-alikes and know your plants; but there is nothing like going out into nature with empty hands and coming home with a feast.

One of my favorite plants is Jewelweed or Touch Me Not. Bright yellow and orange flowers, stem full of juice and seed pods that explode on touch shooting seeds like party favors on New Years' Eve. Jewelweed is a wonderful topical antihistamine. Take a piece of the stem, crush it in your fingers until the juice is released. Put the juice on bug bites or poison ivy. Relief! In the warmer regions you can find aloe. Aloe leaves can be ripped open and the inside pulpy juice wiped on sunburns or other skin rashes for succor. What healing tricks do you have from your native plants?
Two little wild strawberries packed with flavor. 

Wild black morel, to learn about wild edible mushrooms join your local and state mushroom hunting groups. Learn from the pros! Safety first!

Nothing is as wonderful as enjoying a fruit fresh from the plant, warmed by the sun and rinsed by the rain. How many children have a concept of where their food really comes from?

If you have no wild places near you, have you considered putting in a garden? Even a small garden with several plants allows you the chance to see life unfold in front of you and offers you the chance to enjoy something you personally have tended. It isn't quite like tasting something wild, but it has it's own merits. Food you have had a hand in raising or harvesting is twice as delicious as any found commercially. Peas, lettuce, onions, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes are easy to raise and make a satisfying start to your farming experience.

Some want a garden without a hassle, without anything to harvest. In that case, rock garden or moss garden would be a delightful endeavor that wouldn't constrain time. A moss garden is as simple as gently transplanting moss from one place to another and watering it thoroughly daily for several weeks. A rock garden is simply finding rocks you like and putting them in an area together; different shapes and sizes, colors and features to make a beautiful display without need for watering or tending.

Life is too short to spend it racing in a constant jog, spinning endless wheels to stay in debt and frustration. Even if your only rebellion is the small freedom of a garden; go for it!

When I come through perhaps we will go for a walk in the wild, I will teach you the plants I know and look forward to learning about the plants you know.

Life is too short. Too many friends face death. Too many that I want to kidnap out into the sun, to fill their last days and moments with wild beauty. I wish that the experiences you have in life are like wild strawberries, concentrated and amazing. Lives full of color and flavor, rather than oversized, bland abundance. Challenge only makes us stronger and more resourceful. Mowing wild strawberries only spreads them in a carpet across your lawn; their bright runners a celebration of the persistence of life. I wish you to thrive like wild fruit, to exceed your own expectations.

Watch the sunset, tune into the world around you. Do you know the calls of the animals in your neighborhood? Do you know the birds? Do you know the trees, shrubs, flowers? Perhaps it is time for you to meet your real neighbors. Whatever else you do today, whatever is going on inside your head, choose to step out for a moment. Choose to be present, here, now, and to savor at least one moment.
Sunset in Blackhawk Colorado, Savoring the moment and letting go of the day.