Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Wild Feast

A light but steady rain fell all evening long. The trees dripped, dripped, dripped. I sidestepped the puddles in the long dirt driveway that led to the country house, my eyes cast down to the forest floor on either side of the drive. Wild strawberry, raspberries, burdock, dandelion, mallow.... Could that be toothwort!?! No...but I wonder what it is. This is how I look at the world now.

Inside, the house was warm and cozy. The living room filled with our motley group, brought together by a shared interest and passion for nature and food. Our hosts, neighbours and long time friends of our teacher Martha, generously opened their door and space to us.

On the table lay a feast of food. Sorrel and dandelion soup, baked beans, molasses bread, dandelion jam, pickled wild leeks, toothwort horseradish, wild goddess chips, a wild salad with a new addition this week: Dame's Rocket. There was linden tea, rhubarb juice and hot maple sap.

We filled our cups and plates and settled onto couches and chairs. The room filled with the hum of conversation and laughter. A range of topics was enthusiastically discussed: the best place to find a certain kind of mushroom, where to get fresh local food, the problem with pesticides, herbal uses for common plants, recipes, cautionary tales, gardening tips and advice.

People went to the table for seconds, and someone new filled their vacant seat. New conversations started up, threads of a topic carried across the room and popped up in another part of the circle like the fruiting body of a vast mycelium.

With full bellies and sipping on tea, juice or hot sap, Martha got our attention. She asked us to each take a turn and speak a little bit about how we heard about her course, why we took it and how our interest in wild edibles came about.

The next half an hour was a complete privilege listening to everyone's stories.

There was the man who grew up on a farm and spent many hours outside baling hay and weeding gardens. He started learning about wild edibles because he got hungry working outside all day long and would eat whatever was around him. This worked out just fine until one day he ate a berry he shouldn't have. Now he knows better.

There was the couple who have long been outdoor enthusiasts and whose families both had appreciation for what nature can provide.

One woman was rekindling a lost passion from the 70's back to the land movement, inspired by her daughter's question, "Can I have your old recipe for making dandelion wine?"

A few people talked about how their gardens have changed over the years as they have welcomed and encouraged what other people would call weeds.

Everyone expressed a deep love and respect for nature and the environment.

I was especially touched by the story of the young man who lives in a suburban city outside of Ottawa. With his neck tattoo, leather jacket and beater car he looks incongruous in the bush. Yet when I heard him speak about his love of camping and the outdoors, and saw the eager passion he has for learning and absorbing everything he can about plants and nature, and how respectfully he listens to our diminutive, elderly teacher, I felt ashamed at how quick I was to judge by appearances. Hell, at his age I was smoking, drinking and dancing my nights away in clubs and bars. Oh sure, I loved nature too, but I had other things on my mind at the time.

We came full circle. Our stories all told, joined us with many common threads. No longer a group of strangers, now a little community, brought together through the communion of the table, sharing a meal not bought from the cold, fluorescent aisles of some large grocery chain, but from backyards, forests, gardens and the precious green spaces where the wild things grow.

We filtered out into the night. It was still raining, and the trees dripped, dripped, dripped. I could just make out the dull shine of the puddles down the driveway. It was too dark to see what was growing in the bush, but in my minds eye I saw wild strawberry, raspberries, burdock, dandelion, mallow... This is how I look at the world now.


Steph said...

Such a beautiful description of what sounds like a magical night. You now have me intrigued about this course. I might have to check it out! :)

Amber said...

Thank you Steph. It really was a lovely night. I highly recommend the course. Martha is wonderful and you'll learn sooo much!