Curried orange lentils with curly dock leaves and wood sorrel. Isn't it gorgeous! I feel like I am getting wilder and wilder every day. Today I had an encounter with this ancient creature.
She had just laid a clutch of eggs. Snapping turtles come out of the ponds this time of the year to lay their eggs on dry ground. I could see the bare spot in the grass she had scraped out with her considerable claws. I think she was very tired from her exertions. I was clearing brush with Paul and walked past her about 50 times carrying chokecherry branches I was throwing on the brush pile. She did not seem agitated at all.
Normally I would not face a snapping turtle head on like this. They are known to lunge quite a distance. I have seen this. But today I felt safe to approach her head on. I kept a respectful distance and she let me take this photo. I felt so honored. I gave her a little reiki. Her neck pulsed. I thought about what it would feel like to literally have a hard shell.
After work I rode my bike along the dunes gathering rose hip buds and petals. I plan to bathe in the petals and dry the buds for tea. I don't think there is a better smell in the world than beach roses. I am also happy to report that I found my first patch of sea rocket in the dunes. Sea rocket is one of the most delectable vegetables. I will be writing much more about it in the future. One of my customers' at Farmers' Market told me they even sell it at Dean & Deluca in New York City!
This here is cow parsnip. I've been biking by it for years, and I must admit the only reason I haven't dug it up is because it is on private property on a very public stretch of Corn Neck Rd. I've lusted after it for years. I haven't seen it anywhere else on the island and I've never tried it. I can feel it tempting me to give in to my darker impulses every time I pedal by, though so far I have resisted. I, did, however, hop the wall yesterday to take these photos.
It is a quite extraordinary plant. I really did feel spellbound as I was gazing at its leaves and the tiny white petals which make up one flower head. Especially mesmerizing, were the flowers which were just beginning to open. I was astonished when I got home and saw the photos. I was clearly connecting with an intelligence that was looking back at me, no doubt in my mind. I was kind of glad I didn't dig it up and eat it, although I read in Wildman Steve Brill's guide that the flower stalks which have not yet flowered are delicious to eat, too, not just the root, which would involve digging, and explaining why I was digging if I was caught. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that Cow Parsnip has cast a spell on me. I can't stop looking at it or at these photos. Hope you enjoy them. Hope I resist my dark impulses. I won't let you know if I don't.
I know whenever goldfinches cross my path as I ride to work in the morning that the fairies are calling me. Today I felt them very close as I planted some pansies under a shady tree amongst the wood sorrel that was already growing there. You may recognize this plant as the legendary shamrock which leprechauns sport in their lapels. I do believe in leprechauns, though I'm not sure they were three-piece suits and top hats. I think they may be a little more wild than that. If they wear anything at all, I imagine they were moleskin breeches and robin feather cloaks. I bet they lace their boots with mouse whiskers and wear acorn caps. I bet they use shamrocks as umbrellas, and since it's been raining a lot lately I left these sorrel plants in the company of the pansies to provide them with some shelter. I like to mix the wild with the tame. Wood sorrel is very delicate. When you put it in your mouth you feel like you are absorbing the essence of green. I pick it for salads sometimes, but mostly I just pick it and eat it wherever I find it. It reminds me there is magic everywhere. And I always remember to wink at the fairies.
If you live on Block Island, chances are you know this tune. It was written by my brother Stevie Lightnin.' It's about a down and out fellow who wakes up in a ditch to find a beautiful lady there with him. As you all know, the quest for housing can be quite a struggle sometimes so it might not be quite as much a surprise to find someone sleeping in a ditch on Block Island than it would be on the mainland. Only kidding! Although I bet a few folks over the years have ended up sleeping in ditches after a night out at one of the local watering holes. All I can say is if you're going to stumble into a ditch, make sure you do it on foot and not in a car. I was biking to work yesterday and noticed a stonewall that had been knocked over. Lo and behold, there in the marsh beyond was a car that had rolled a good 100 yards. Heard whoever was driving was fine physically, thank goodness. I don't really want to go on about what I think about alcohol abuse because that would be a whole other blog and you are reading this one because it's about foraging, so I'll just say that I hope the highest and greatest good occurs for everyone on this island, drunk or sober. We are all connected. In a place as small as this, surrounded by the ocean, this can be more obvious than on the mainland. It is easier to see our connections here and to realize that we are co-creating lessons for the benefit of our souls' growth together so I encourage anyone reading this who lives on Block Island to consider what our collective field is and determine if it is one you feel good about creating. For example, the housing struggle and alcohol abuse are two collective fields we have created. They are not inevitable. We choose together to make them "set in stone," some of us playing the role of victim, some of perpetrator, when really these are just the roles we adopt in order to evolve.
On a lighter note, I've been building walls with the extraordinary Paul Cunningham and I told him maybe we could get some work out of this incident. His reply was maybe we should offer kickbacks to people crashing into walls. I do love an occasional dose of black humor, of which my brother Lightnin' is a master. I think someone in that ditch was cookin' bacon.
This ditch in the photo above is on Chapel St. and it is loaded with edibles. In the photo on the right, curly dock and jewelweed can be seen. I absolutely love curly dock. According to urban forager Steve Brill, whose guide Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places I highly recommend, curly, sometimes referred to as yellow dock because of its deep yellow roots, is a nutritional and medicinal powerhouse. Not to get down on spinach, but curly dock has a third more protein, iron, calcium, potassium, beta carotene and phosphorous, and more than double the Vitamin C. According to Steve it was an important vegetable during the Depression in the 30s when people were forced to turn to the wild for food. I don't wish a Depression on us, by any means, but it's good to know that the earth will provide for us even if we don't have money to buy food. The root is decocted and used medicinally to treat anemia and liver disorders.
This is the time to gather this green, before the flower stalk shoots up and the leaves get very tough and bitter. Its flavor is deliciously sour. I usually steam the leaves, although the other night I threw them into an omelet, and tonight I branched out and roasted them with some olive oil to make curly dock chips. I got the idea from my mom who sent me a recipe for this using kale. Here's a photo. They were delicious. Thanks for inspiring me Mom, if you read this. , I've only eaten jewelweed once and it was by mistake. It was in my formative days as a forager. I was at Cooneymus Spring looking for watercress, which I had picked there in the past. I thought the cress looked kind of spindly, but picked it anyway, which I boiled into a soup. I think I thought it tasted ok at the time, although I do recall it sort of fell apart and wasn't quite as spicy as I expected watercress to be. I've sinced learned it was jewelweed, which grows in damp places like watercress. Jewelweed is officially edible, but it is as a medicinal plant where it shines. Block Island is loaded with poison ivy. The next time you notice you've brushed against some, crush a stalk (remember to say thank you) and rub some juice on the affected area and you most likely will not get a rash. You can do the same for insect bites, too. I get poison ivy pretty bad and jewelweed has worked for me. My friend Johanna Ross who is an herbalist makes a product called Poison Ivy Relief containing locally foraged jewelweed if you want to have some on hand for accidents. Her website is http://www.islandmistnaturalproducts.com/.
Here's a photo of broad-leaf dock, mallow and jewelweed sharing space in this ditch. (and one bright and sunny dandelion, also good for eating, but a little tough once the flowers blossom!) Broad-leaf dock is not quite as tasty as curly, though edible, but mallow greens are. Eat them raw, they cook down to almost nothing. I wonder if they find the drunks who stumble down Chapel St. when the bars close amusing or if they're annoyed because they can't sleep. I suppose, like all of us, they chose this busy byway to be their home because it was the best place for them to grow. Sadly, the dock I enjoyed for my dinner tonight was not from this ditch. I have noticed many times as I've biked by that the water in it is coated in an iridescent oil slick that must be run-off from the nearby mechanic's machine shop. I still love riding by it, though. It is such a lush patch of wild and delicious goodness right in town!
Ever wander across your lawn for dinner? Here in North American w tend to be obsessed with eradicating weeds from our lawns. I say North Americans, because this didn't seem to be the tendency from what I saw in South America, where things seem to be left just to grow, except for at Macchu Picchu, where the grass in the ruins was lush and green! I wondered if the Incas were into lush lawns when I visited. The llamas seemed to be enjoying it, and it is soothing to the eyes and soft to lie on, but it really makes no sense to kill all these wonderful edible and medicinal plants that are offering themselves up right in our yards!
Anyway, my point is that there is good eating out there in your lawn, so don't curse those weeds, and especially don't kill them with chemicals which filter down into our drinking water. I do recommend rinsing anything you pick from your lawn in case it has been sprayed, not only because of chemicals, it might have been sprayed by a dog as well. Hope this doesn't turn you off foraging. I think a lot worse goes on in factory farms and produce packing plants all over the world than a little dog pee, if that makes you feel any better.
Another great place to look for salad greens is cracks in the sidewalk or along the edge of buildings. I visited my friend Rosalee in Newport last week and scanned her street for edibles. There was a lot to eat and it was fun to point them out to Rosalee. One of the things I love about foraging is the wonder in people's eyes when I point out something they've passed by a million times is a delicious, nutritious treat! We are so conditioned to buying our food that most of us have forgotten that the earth really does provide for all our needs.
I do believe that reciprocity should be involved in our interactions with plant life--energy should be exchanged--but the energy does not have to be in the form of money to be valuable. Gratitude, for example, is a wonderful gift to give the plants you pick and eat. I always ask the plant if it is ok to pick it and I never pick a plant if there is only one or two around. I read once that the Native North Americans always walked by the first of any plant they saw and gathered the next one. I think we too often feel helpless if we don't have money. I know I've felt this way, but when I go out foraging I feel powerfully connected to the earth and powerful in my ability to support myself. It is a grand feeling. I am so grateful to have adopted this path.
As for feeling disempowered by lack of money, this can be shifted easily by recognizing that money is simply the primary form of energy exchange in our culture. It is not evil. It doesn not corrupt. It is the desire for control that corrupts and the abuse carried out by those who desire power and control more than anything that has tainted our primary form of energy exchange. The way I see it, is those of us who desire to be part of a more just and exquitable exchange are just as powerful, especially when we come together and use our abilities to focus intention on our goals. In my world, the spirit realm comes first, then the material. If we visualize in the spiritual, we create the possibility for our desire to manifest in the physical. I call this spiritual activism and I have been practicing it on Block Island for the past several years. I don't have a lot of money to donate to The Block Island Conservancy to buy land, but my thoughts and emotions are a powerful tool to assist in the preservation of Block Island. So the next time you are feeling despair about seeing your favorite open space destroyed, send prayers its way. Send prayers also that everyone involved and connected with that land will act from their hearts for the highest good of creation. The shamanic way involves knowing from direct experience. Try it and see what happens. We are no longer living in a time where we have to take anything on faith. We are all being given the opportunity to claim our power to consciously co-create our reality. We've been doing it unconsciously for a long time and the poverty-consciousness and fear that has dominated our emotional spectrum can be witnessed in our creations. I say let's make Block Island an experiment in co-creating a new Eden! We can all run around in fig leaves!
Just kidding, I won't decree that citizens of the new Eden have to run around naked. I've seen too many weirdos down at Block Rock to believe that we don't have to do a little more healing around body and sexuality issues before that is part of our constitution. In the meantime, there is plenty of gazing at the ground to do, grazing the lawn for dainty wild greens like violet leaves, sheep sorrel, chickweed, purslane, plantain, dandelions, and maybe even a wild carrot or two, dug up with a thank you, thank you, thank you--for all this wild and wonderful life.
Here are those pictures to help you identify. First row: plantain and chickweed. Second row: sheep sorrel and wild violets. Leaves and flowers are both edible. Mmmm-I love eating flowers. Someday I want to exist on a diet of flowers alone! Now that will be some amazing energy to exchange!
Look what I saved from the bulldozers!! Wild carrots in my front yard. We're getting a new septic system and the gentlemen operating the heavy equipment had no idea what treasures they were about to decimate until I ran out with my Cape Cod weeder and pulled these up. Notice the color--wild carrots do not contain beta-carotene which gives domestic carrots their orange hue. Many of you probably know this plant as Queen Anne's lace which sends up its delicate white lace crowns in a few weeks. Now, before the flowers bloom, is the time to eat the roots. They can be eaten after that, but they are rather tough. This batch was in fact, rather tough, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. In the past I have roasted them, but these were tossed into a pot with a few domestic carrots, some ginger, onion, turmeric, and water to become a soup. After the soup was cooked I pureed it with a handful of soaked raw almonds so it was nice and creamy. I served it with a dash of toasted sesame oil and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It was simple and delicious. Of course, nibbling them raw is fun, too, sitting right on the lawn while the bulldozers roar away.
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.
It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun's going down
whose secret we see in a children's game
of ring a round of roses told.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
Something beautiful was born in this meadow last night. I was so honored to be there to witness it come into the world. The whole world rejoices when we are brave and follow our hearts deep into the mystery of creation, placing our trust in love. Blessings on you Jamie and Peter, united in this meadow in that magic hour before the sun went down.
It's really quite simple, but the path to arriving can involve a lot of thorns and poison ivy, which Jamie and I walked through as we came over the hill and down to the hollow where Peter was waiting. Poison ivy means pay attention, Maria said as we walked back up the hill carrying our smudge, feathers, and flutes after the ceremony. I thought of her words this evening as I wandered in search of dinner, moving slowly through the vines with thorns, avoiding the shiny red leaves of poison ivy. I reached down to the earth slowly, carefully cut milkweed shoots so as not to cut any grass, let the ones with tiny vines wrapped around them be. I parted the long grass around the curly dock plants growing close to the stonewall and picked the smallest, most delicate leaves. And I picked what will probably be the last asparagus of the season, which I plan to eat tonight, roasted simply with olive oil and sea salt. Right before I left I saluted one wild stalk at least three feet high which was about to burst into seed. Queen of the Hill. A dream of the grass blowing.
This little yellow flower in my fingers is wintercress. I found it last Monday in the field preserved by the Block Island Conservancy off Beach Ave. There's a little wooden sign marking the path that I biked by for years until one day I finally stopped and walked down to take a look. Now it's one of my favorite places to forage, with a multitude of plants and secret views of the inner ponds.
Wintercress is one of the first edibles to pop up in the spring. It is related to watercress and looks and tastes like its cousin--sharp and peppery. The flowers are edible, too. I ate a few petals of this one, enjoying the pungent bite on my tongue. I had a wonderful time in that field, photographing young milkweed shoots, exclaiming with delight at two-foot high stalks of asparagus, noting thistles and spring onions, wondering when wild carrots were going to make their appearance. I wasn't thinking about Read, who I'd last seen the end of March, when the wintercress was the first sign of life pushing its way up through the dead grass, but when I biked home with my sack full of asparagus and milkweed Neva's email was waiting for me. Read, who, if you don't know him, was engaged in a process with cancer, was close to dying.
He couldn't speak anymore, but she believed he could hear her. She was holding his hand. The hospice nurse told Neva he'd told her he was content with life and was comfortable with dying. I cried of course, and kept busy, because that's what Read would do. Roasted my asparagus, double-boiled my milkweed shoots, and went to bed knowing I would never see him again, strangely peaceful, wishing him well on his journey as I dropped into sleep, hoping that Neva could feel me by her side as she held his hand on what would be his night on earth.
I don't know what they talked about at the end, but I'm sure it was interesting, even if there were no words involved, because I don't know of two more engaging and interesting people in the world than Read and Neva. I was fortunate to live with them at The Bellevue House for six years where we formed what we called "The Bellevue Family." There were a lot of us coming and going over the years, but all the chambermaids and their friends and boyfriends really were treated like family members. Like all children, we got up to all sorts of shenanigans. Some of them we got away with, some we didn't, but everyone who lived at The Bellevue knew it was more than just a job, it was a home, that Neva and Read were mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, friends and mentors.
I was thinking about all these roles Read played in my life. Yes, he was a father figure to me. Yes, he was my mentor at The Block Island Times--but it was more than that--for me and for many others in the community who connected with him at the newspaper or in some other capacity as he did his "civic duty" Read was an elder. A person who had earned his wisdom and generously shared it with anyone who wanted to listen and learn. He didn't beat anyone over the head with his opinions. He grew up on a farm, working dawn to dusk. He was sensible. As an editorialist, his words had such an impact because he lived them. It's called integrity. Read had it in spades. Everybody felt it, from the guests at The Bellevue breakfast table who relied on him for morning weather updates, to the young writers and reporters he mentored at The Block Island Times. He also had a good sense of humor and enjoyed a Gennessee Cream Ale at the end of the work day. He had a mini-refrigerator stocked with them in his work room in the basement. Those who were invited to imbibe one at dusk considered it quite an honor. He had to import them from the mainland because you couldn't buy them on the island.
There was something incorruptible about Read. He was a man who couldn't be bought. He took a stand. He did it quietly, without a fuss, but it was a firm stand that had results. One of his "civic duties" was to serve as a member of The Block Island Conservancy. He might have even been the president. I'm not sure. All I know is that when I walk down that enticing path into my favorite field for foraging, from now on I will always think of Read. I will always remember he had a part in preserving this beautiful field that supports so much life, and when I read the sign that says "Walkers Welcome" I will remember his dedicated spirit, and the will power to match which enabled him to sit through a thousand and one tedious meetings to make it happen. Most of all, every time I walk down that path, I will ask myself--what can I do to make the world a better place? What work is needed from me now?
The last time I saw Read he was standing in front of the woodstove in his and Neva's house on the Cape. The three of us had taken a walk together on the beach. He felt a little chilly and wanted to get a fire going. He had carried a big armload of wood in and was down on his knees cleaning the glass doors so they'd be able to see the flames. I walked over and gave him a hug. He laughed a little. It was hard to turn my back and walk to the door, leaving him standing there. Neva walked to the door with me, but stood inside, waving goodbye from the window. I knew I would never see him again.
I don't know if he knew. I think he did. He was quiet that day, but still shared some stories about how he first came to be a journalist. I enjoyed listening, always amazed at the depth of his experience, but I didn't need stories to learn from Read any more. I learned from his quiet dignity when he got up from his knees so I could say goodbye to him. It wasn't easy. He'd told me earlier how hard it had been to get up yesterday when he was gardening.
It wasn't easy, but it was necessary. That's why we did it. Said goodbye. Standing up--because that's how people know they can count on you.
Shamans in the Amazon speak of plants as teachers. They say they receive information and wisdom directly from the plants themselves. I stopped to look at this unfurled fiddlehead the other day looking out from the other side of a stonewall. Lots of cars passed by. I imagined them saying there's that crazy girl on her bike again staring at nothing. Maybe they were. The most important thing for me is to stop and look when I hear the call. Call me crazy, lazy, or amusing. I'll take them all.
Although fiddleheads are delicious, I didn't eat this one. It's unfurled by now, dancing with the wind, touching the stonewall, waiting for the next biker to stop for a while and remember.
Hello Everybody! Whitewave here. I am so happy to be back on Block Island after a challenging winter in Providence. I had to learn to trust the literal meaning of the name--guided by God--really seriously. For those of you who know me I love to be outdoors--riding my bike, freediving off Black Rock, laying on the sand at Shark Fin Beach, beachcombing, and most of all foraging for wild food, which is possible in Providence, but much more fun on glorious Block Island!
I got the idea to start this blog today after working on a stone wall with my good friend Paul Cunningham. I was high from hoisting heavy rocks around and finding just the perfect ones to fit in those little gaps. I also have a challenging health situation and am taking prednisone at the moment, to be honest, which doesn't feel right for my body, but which I felt was a necessary choice last week when I slunk to the hospital in fear I was going to collapse again and end up missing another summer on Block Island. Steroids are powerful drugs. So is Mother Nature. I know I will be off them soon and kind of feel like writing this blog and sharing my joy in the beauty and bounty of wild Block Island will help me do that. One thing I know, is that after a winter in Providence, the beauty of the island is even more intoxicating. Everyday I am more and more astonished by the raw succulence of this place.
I got into foraging a couple of years ago. I read an interview with a British forager by the name of Fergus Drennan who had a BBC show called "The Roadkill Chef." http://www.wildmanwildfood.com/. He does indeed forage roadkill--badgers and birds and other poor creatures crushed by careless wheels, although he, like me, forages mostly for plants. Reading of Fergus's adventures was a revelation to me. I got a foraging guide at The Island Free Library and started looking at pictures. I was amazed to discover that many of the edible plants I saw were ones I saw everyday on Block Island. Indeed, as I began to cruise down dirt roads, dunes, marshes, springs, tidepools, and yes, an occasional paved roads, I discovered the island was a forager's paradise! At the time I worked as a gardener, as in I got paid to pull up weeds. Instead of chucking them over the stonewall, I began to take them home and eat them! Those first days were heady, let me tell you, as I discovered the thrills of eating food I found myself without going to the grocery store.
My plan here is to share plants with you as they come my way, along with photos, nutritional info, recipes, and cooking techniques, along with whatever musings pop into my wild brain to feed our wild bodies. Amen. Feels good to say that. While I love cultivating a garden, wild plants are special because they chose to grow wherever you find them. This means they are optimally nutritious. When we eat a wild plant, we connect with our wild souls--the part of us that remembers we are just as wild as the falcons I keep seeing swoop over the fields in front of my house in the high winds we've had last couple of days. I could go on and on with musings on the wild soul, but for now I will leave you with a hearty welcome to my world and a photo of one of my favorites--wild asparagus--growing in a field you probably drive by a couple of times a day if you live on Block Island. If you don't live here, next time you pass a field that seems to be inviting you for a ramble, pull the car over to the side of the road and see what's waiting to surprise you.
Thanks to All My Relations for all the opportunities for growth you bring to my life. These words and pictures are my offering to you, guided by God, by Providence, to this wonderful place. And thanks especially to the devas who helped this asparagus flourish in this perfect place. You are going to taste so good for dinner!!