Archive for April, 2010
As a child, I was encouraged to be interested in both art and science. And then as I grew older, I was less encouraged to pursue science, and more encouraged to follow an artistic path (and the path of being a cashier, but that’s another story).
Why? I’m not sure. But what it led to was me ending up at an art school for college. I never really considered myself an artist. Not deep down anyway. As my college experience never really gave me a clear idea of what art was, or what it meant to be an artist. The closest I got was while studying with photographer Nicholas Nixon, who seemed to have the answers I was looking for, but I never quite got them out of him.
And then, a few years after graduation, a guy I was dating, who had also gone to MassArt, pointed me in the direction of the wonderful and brilliant comic artist and scholar Scott McCloud, and his omnibus art history book, Understanding Comics. And in that book, I found the answers I’d been seeking. After reading McCloud’s book, I had the happy understanding that art is communication. And good art is unique communication. The best art simply conveys an idea in a new way. Now that is something I definitely do!
And what’s so great about this definition of art is that it frees us up to use any medium we want to convey our ideas.
Any medium at all.
Including, your whole life…
If an audience were to look at your own life as a work of art, what message do you’d be conveying to them?
On Saturday morning, after 5 and a half days of eating only wild and free foods that I could forage in the Boston area, I called it quits on my crash course, because I listened to my body and she said, “I need fat!”
And I listened to my brain, and she said, “Turil, you’re not going to learn any more in the next day and a half about wild foods, and you’ve got too many things going on this weekend to also deal with finding more wild food that you’re body doesn’t really want right now. So relax and have some chia seeds and go to the raw food potluck with your new friends.”
And so I followed my own advice.
The “work week” version of the Wild and Free week was amazing, though. And I learned so much, and got a chance to see the world, myself, and my community, from a whole different perspective. The Earth really is a gift to us humans, and she offers us so much that we either take for granted (maple trees and their sap) or ignore (dandelions!), much to our detriment.
So while I may not have been able to go a whole week eating only what wild foods I found in my area right from the start, I went much further than most people even consider trying, and I learned enough to easily supplement my diet. And I learned what I’d need to do to ensure that I could survive on wild foods in the spring. (Save nuts and seeds over the winter! And tap the maple trees while the nights are still cold enough to freeze the sap in the tree and the days are warm enough to melt it.) And I weathered what ended up being a difficult physical and emotional week far better than I normally would have, due to the wealth of fresh, cleansing greens in my diet. (Many of my skin conditions also disappeared or at least diminished, too, which always happens when I eat a healthy, raw diet.)
So, on the whole, it was a mission that was well worth doing. And I’m so very thankful I had the courage, and encouragement, to do it. I also look forward to doing something similar again, hopefully alongside others, this time, as I continue to practice being more connected with the natural world and all that it offers us freely and generously.
For the record, I tried the following wild foods during this mission:
cattail shoots (pretty good)
garlic mustard greens (ick!)
wild chives (yummy as a flavoring!)
sunchokes (utterly delicious!)
dandelion greens (ok)
dandelion flowers (pretty good)
violet flowers (yummy!)
plantain leaves (eh…)
Japanese knotweed shoots (tangy and yummy!)
pine needle ade (pleasant)
pine needle tea (even more pleasant)
mint ade (ok)
mint leaves (ok)
willow tree inner bark (as a medicine – aspirin – worked!)
grass – not sure which kind (ok)
clover leaves (ok)
OK, onto the next 5 projects! :-)
Yesterday had me working on the maple sap problem. Turns out that you do in fact need freezing nights, and warmer days, to get sap to come out, because what happens is that overnight the sap in the branches of the tree freezes, and then during the day, when things warm up, the sap defrosts and comes rushing down the trunk and back to the roots. (The tree’s sap is like animals’ blood, it gets nutrients from one spot and then delivers the nutrients to spots that need them, and then flows back again to the place it gets the nutrients, to refuel.) Without the freezing, the sap flows very, very slowly, or not at all (at least at the perimeter of the tree, where you tap it). In my case, it was the not at all option. I drilled a small hole, and it was bone dry. Oh, well.
I put off going to the library and park/woods, so I discovered nothing new to eat, and just had more sunchokes (slowly!) and dandelion greens.
It’s raining today, witch I suspect will wake up a lot of plants. So that might help some things grow more quickly and be ready to eat sooner. It also might help inspire some mushrooms to grow, which is something I’m always interested in. I did a little mushroom hunting when I was staying at a Buddhist center in Northern California, and some of the people running the place were avid mushroom hunters. They gave me some tips, and let me use their excellent mushroom guide Mushrooms Demystified, by David Aurora. I found a whole lot of inedible mushrooms, and one that was listed as edible but bland. I was fully raw at the time, so I simply dehydrated it and used it like white bread toast, which is what it tasted like. (It’s apparently a popular delicacy in the Mediterranian, from what I hear, but I can’t tell why. Maybe they like the flavor of white bread toast?) Though the appearance of the thing was definitely nothing but bland, and it’s one of the most exciting mushrooms I’ve ever seen. The creature is quite accurately called the Bloody Milk Cap (Lactarius sanguifluus), and, just like with human beings, the inside is very different than the outside. The outside looks like a pretty orange sherbet colored sandstone carving, while the inside is a reddish-purplish mess of oozing globules, as you can see from the pictures.
Alas, I don’t think we have them in the New England area. But we do have boletes, chanterelles, and the very common edibles hen of the woods and chicken of the woods, as well as the highly prized and awesome looking giant puffball, which can easily get to be nearly basketball sized, and looks like a giant round lightly toasted marshmallow. I have never had the pleasure of seeing one of these in person, though. When I was a kid, I did see the mini puffballs, and they are apparently edible as well, so I hold out hope that I might at least see them again someday.
Now I’m off to make some pine needle ade, and start my day, wild and free, as it should be. :-)
Yesterday, I was feeling quite a bit more of a human, and had enough energy to go out twice. Bright and early, I headed out to do some trashpicking (a more modern version of foraging, I guess) and found some wonderful structures for a garden I’ve helping create down at the awesome and unique Sprouts space down the hill from me. I found a large bamboo papasan chair seat and a small wire garden fence to provide a little bit of protection for the plants, as the space tends to be full of all kinds of humans, and even more piles of bikes in various condition, along with other random geek cruft, and both piles and people tend to end up sprawling all over the place, including into the garden space. So I brought my freshly picked structures down and installed them, and did some more garden work and socializing before heading back to where I’m staying for some rest before the afternoon’s work. All the way down to the garden and back I was nibbling on more dandelion flowers and greens, and violets, and Japanese knotweed shoots, which just popped up over the past couple of days. The inside of the stem of the very young knotweed (which people often confuse with bamboo) is very edible and tastes a lot like rhubarb, making it a very delicious addition to my diet, and I’m hoping to find somewhere with more of it coming up, as it takes a lot of the stuff to make much of a snack, since the shoots are pretty small to begin with, and even smaller once you peel the bitter skin off.
Then in the evening, I lugged more structural garden stuff I’d made, a small trellis out of trashpicked wood and a small geodesic dome I’d made out of trashpicked hose, and some seedlings, and some pretty copper wire for making decorations with, and went down for more gardening as well as their monthly community art performance. (Which, this month, delightfully happened to feature a group my awol husband is in, and I got the pleasure of offering him a very small but meaningful and joyful gift.) And while others were enjoying their community spaghetti dinner offered by the grou Food Not Bombs, I ate some of the “weeds” from the garden, and shared my story of this wild and free week with the very friendly folks sitting at the table with me. One of them asked me if there was any wild food I’d tasted and just couldn’t eat, and I immediately replied “Garlic Mustard!” which was just too much for me to eat fresh. Though it might be ok dried and used as a seasoning on something really bland, but having so many wild chives available right now, it’s not really worth it, since I really love the chives. Garlic mustard is a close relative to other wild mustards, which are definitely more tasty, this one just doesn’t cut it, in my opinion.
And then, after a gardening, art, activism, and husband filled night, I made my way slowly up the hill with my bike and trailer. I ended the night happy and exhausted and starving. So for a midnight snack, I had a few bites of a sunchoke. I’d have eaten more, but tooth issues turned eating such a crunchy creature into a very long process, and I really just wanted to sleep.
And now, this morning is sunny and beautiful and promises to be a good day for some exploring in a different part of my city, as I have to go to the Somerville library, to pick up the book Wild Foods I Have Known and Eaten, by Russ Cohen, a guy who lives in the next town over from Somerville, who I’m hoping to get a short interview with soon, if we can agree on a communication form (he likes phones, and I don’t have one :-) So I’m planning on checking out the parks and some wooded areas over by Somerville’s most exciting historical monument, the Prospect Hill tower (a cool castle-like thing built in honor of the fort that was on the hill during the Revolutionary War). And I’m hoping to do a little research into tapping maple trees for sap, to see if it’s even worth doing now, since it’s suddenly so unseasonably warm. I was fortunate to have a very cool neighbor who happened to have a tap and bucket kit that she wasn’t using and kindly loaned to me, so I do hope the tree is willing to share at least a small amount of it’s sweet water with me, to gustatorily liven up my week.
It’s definitely been a very meaningful and fun learning adventure so far, and I’m happy that it’s still continuing, because I still have so much to learn and try!
Simplicity runs head first into complexity!
I am still enjoying my wild and free diet, however today has been rather more of a fasting day, not because of any lack of foraged food, but because I spent the past 24 hours dealing with my cantankerous tooth. It flared up last night to the point where I realized that enough was enough and it was time to let the professionals do something about it. Which, in this society either means spending huge amounts of your own money getting a root canal, or getting the tooth extracted. So, not being much of a huge amounts of money type of person, the tooth has indeed been taken out and shot. Or actually, it was probably incinerated after being taken out, which is what they do with medical waste around here, I believe.
Anyway, all I’ve had for nutrition today is a glass of pine needle ade. Or maybe you’d call it never-been-heated pine needle tea? Anyway, I made a bunch on Monday morning, by blending pine needles from a white pine with water and straining it, and have been sipping a bit every now and then since. At first it was a bit much for my tummy, even though it tasted good, but a little while ago I drank most of what was left, because I was so hungry! And my tummy is fine now. It has a surprisingly mild and sweet taste, and supposedly has plenty of vitamin A and C, according to Tom Seymour, in his wonderful Foraging New England book.
But yesterday had two pleasant meals, along with the usual snacking on dandelion leaves while walking around the neighborhood. For lunch I put several jeruslalem artichokes (aka sunchokes, aka a type of sunflower that has big juicy sweet tubers for roots) in the food processor with some wild chives I’d picked in the Rock Meadow on Sunday, and made a sort of garlicky “rice” kind of dish that was very yummy. It would have been even yummier with a bit of salt or seaweed, but I haven’t gotten to the ocean yet, so that wasn’t an option. By the way, the Jerusalem Artichokes were actually from my own wee little garden space here, which pushes the limits of my project a bit, but they are definitely something I could find around Somerville in the wild spaces, as they are a species that is native to the US, and brought to new England by the Native Americans long ago. But to find them wild in this area right now, you’d have to know where they’d been growing last year, to dig up the tubers before the tubers start sprouting visible shoots and leaves, and the only ones I knew of from last year were here. But in the future, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for them growing in the wild, and note their location, for springtime yumminess!
And then for dinner last night, I had a colorful and sweet handful of dandelion flowers and tiny wild violets that one of my young friends pointed out to me growing quite early in the season on a warm south-facing basketball court just down the street from here. That was a lovely find by him, because it was a very welcome break from the mostly bitter green, and bland white, edible plants that are otherwise available so early in spring in New England.
Hopefully tomorrow will bring some more exciting exploration and meals, though there may be a whole lot of juice and tea and ade for another day or so, while the hole in my face heals.
Which is nice, as the simplicity of a diet of primarily spring greens seems to be helping my body and mind deal well with what normally would be a pretty stressful period of time for me. And for this bit of extra calmness and peace in my body right now, I am quite thankful.
Tonight is my first night of my Wild and Free diet, where I get my food from mother nature, eating only wild and foraged food that is either native to the Boston area, or naturalized.
I’m totally exhausted after a very, very long day of raw food potlucking with some new friends, biking a lot, and hiking a bit, and investigating as many wild edibles as possible! But I did officially start my Wild and Free diet at sunset tonight. I didn’t actually eat much of anything after sunset, because I wasn’t hungry, but I did snack on a couple of wild things in the afternoon, and I collected some stuff for tomorrow, and I can’t wait to do interesting things with my green loot!
The first picture up there is of a willow I found about a half a mile away from Harvard Square on the Charles River. I found out that Willow has the chemical salicin in it, which is the original version of aspirin. If you make a tea out of, or nibble on, the young bark, it acts as a strong inflammation reducer, and pain reliever. I’ve been using it periodically today, since I took a very small branch from the tree, to see if it would help alleviate the pain of one of my teeth, which is having some major issues. I actually didn’t swallow the stuff, just chewed it and then let it sit in my mouth next to the tooth, and it seemed to work. Now that I’m home, and tired the tooth seems worse, so I actually swallowed some of the juice from the bark (but not the bark itself!). It does seem to be helping. Which seems logical, since it’s the real thing.
(Oh, and that pile of colorful stuff in the bottom corner of the picture up there is my bike and trailer and big ol’ teal blue bin for carrying more stuff than I really need…)
And, down there, there’s just a small taste of the beautiful place I decided to spend the evening in, exploring all the good wild and free things nature has to offer. It’s several miles away from where I’m staying these days, so it was more of a treat to be there at sunset, for the beginning of my week’s adventure. It’s not urban at all, though it’s a fairly easy bike ride from here to there (about an hour), so it’s not that much out of the range of my usual food shopping efforts, so it seemed acceptable for this mission.
Anyway, here’s the beautiful Rock Meadow nature preserve, in Belmont, Massachusetts, during sunset tonight.