Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fringe Benefits

I was at Andy's Way foraging glasswort this evening. It's one of the ingredients in my seaweed salad. It's a succulent and grows abundantly in the mudflats as can be seen above. It is delicious raw or sauteed in oil or butter. It is quite salty and is also sometimes called sea pickle.
Andy's Way is one of those magical in-between places. I remember loving it when I was a kid. My brother and I used to scavenge the shore for baby horseshoe crab shells. We thought they were the most marvelous thing in all of existence. I found one tonight, and it was just as marvelous as I remembered, maybe even more so since I find myself regaining a great sense of wonder at the beauty of the world that I hadn't even realized I'd lost. That's one of the good things about spending the winter in Providence. I loved Block Island so much more after living somewhere that wasn't quite as beautiful as Peru and Hawaii, where I spent the past two previous winters. It is so easy to lose sight of this beauty, even when it is all around us here on Block Island. We get so busy, caught up in our dramas, some of which are real and worthy of our attention they generally indicate a place where we need to grow. But if we don't grow we run the risk of circling in the same stories instead of entering a new one where we will learn the next set of lessons our soul needs to evolve.

I am in the process of shifting into a new story. It is quite painful. I am doing my best not to intellectualize it. Foraging gets me out of my mind, into the moment, calms my emotions. It is a great gift. Tonight, kneeling on the mudflats picking the most succulent stalks of glasswort, it was easy to imagine myself a Manissean woman doing just the same thousands of years ago. My cousin tells me my Uncle Herman says of me with derision, "she eats weeds."

Of course I eat weeds! What sane person wouldn't? The insanity is buying food from the grocery store. Of course I still do. I spent eight dollars on a carton of coconut water tonight, something I could have foraged if I was still living in Hawaii. I don't regret it, but I do feel a little guilty. If I could never drink it again, I'll admit, I would miss it. I would long for a fresh, green coconut and wish myself back in Hawaii where they fall from the trees. It would be possible to live alone on wild foods, but it would be a mighty task to complete on one's own. The British forager Fergus Drennan who originally inspired me to get out in the fields and on the rocks tried it, (his goal was to live on wild foods only for a year), but found it too difficult to do while still  paying rent, etc., while still living in a money economy.  You can read about his attempt at http://www.wildmanwildfood.com/.

 I remember writing him and telling him how much I admired his attempt, and telling him not to see himself as a failure. Foraging, living off the land, works best as a collective enterprise. It needs a tribe and lots of time. The pressures of modern day life are not conducive to the practice of wildness. I am doing my best to hold the energy of wild Block Island in the midst of the summer mayhem, but it's hard a lot of the time. I, too, live half-in half-out of the money economy, mostly because I have to. I get tired of riding my bike around. It's been quite exhausting in the heat. Tired of hauling thirty pounds of seaweed up cliffs and in my bike basket back into town. However, if I had the choice, if there was a tribe who wanted to do it with me, I think I  would do it. I think I am ready to slip out of the money economy into the tribal world, rather like an otter. We'd have a lot more time to play on the banks of the river. A lot more time to enjoy sunsets like the one I saw at Andy's Way tonight foraging glasswort. What a fringe benefit. What a bonus. Thank you sun. Thank you oystercatchers who flew over me. Thank you gentle, warm waves of the Great Salt Pond. May you be given back a thousandfold all that you give to us.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Office

I was chatting with an attorney on the porch of Juice 'n Java yesterday. He was young, probably much younger than me, but already quite disgruntled and dissatisfied with his chosen profession. He mentioned that he'd been down at Black Rock earlier that morning trying to learn how to surf. I told him that was where I went to get the majority of my seaweed.

What do you do for a living? he asked.

I'm a professional forager, I answered, not at all ironically.

Above is a photo of my "office." My favorite tidepool at Black Rock. I like it best for many reasons-- it is accessible even at high tide, and it is very remote. Hardly anyone goes there. I ride my bike through Rodman's Hollow and slide down a little canyon in the bluffs to reach it. There are no strange, nude men with creepy and desperate intentions.

On the way back I clamber up the clay, loaded down with rockweed. I usually see a deer or two nibbling grass off to the side, always in the same places. I like that I know where the deer will be. This feeling of intimacy with the land and ocean is what sustains me. I may not be getting rich like that young attorney, but I know I am wealthy in the ways that truly matter. Lots of people are always telling me I should get my seaweed in stores on the mainland, rake in the big bucks, etc. I laugh, tell them that it's not so easy--I would require a much bigger bike to get all I need, but the real reason I don't want to mass produce, even if it were possible, is because I want to keep my operation slow, small, and simple. I don't want to feel pressured for time. I don't want to feel like I don't have time to lie in a tidepool and take a nap, belly down, on the beach. I let my office tell me what to do. The answer is always the same: swim, then sleep. The world is moving so quickly--but there are tidepools at Black Rock which--if you can reach them--will show you a long, slow view of yourself, a turtle's view, moving slowly through the warm, salty water toward the light.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Problem With Foraging

The problem with foraging is it takes away all desire to have a job. Not that I had that much desire for a job in the first place. However, I do want to be sustainable--to support myself and not be dependent on others. I feel the wrongness of those words as I right them, but I write them anyway, because I am socialized enough still to want approval, and approval in my world means being self-sustaining. Last year, due to my illness, I was not. My body took over and I had no choice but to receive help.

Really, I believe we are all meant to receive from each other, but we have gotten to a point where for many, to receive help is shameful. I know I am one of those people on some days, but more and more I am opening myself up to receiving as the roots of my shame become more exposed and I start to look around in wonder at how beautiful the earth is--especially Block Island in the summertime when the waves are huge and the flowers heady.

What it all comes down to, is that if we are ashamed of ourselves on any level, we believe we are unworthy--unworthy of loving relationships, material abundance, or even surviving at the most basic level. Unworthy of a place on the earth. We struggle to survive and believe there is not enough for us. So many of us are victims to a money economy. Money itself is not evil, it's just a form of energy exchange, but the way it is controlled in our society has created a system where most of us sell our souls and damage our bodies in order to survive. Foraging pulls me out of this system. I can find my own food, and the process of doing this feeds my soul in a way that going to the grocery store does not, or even buying locally grown vegetables at the Farmers' Market. Foraged food is wild. When you eat foraged food you become wild. You lose your shoes, your hair gets tangled, you have dirt under your fingernails and a dreamy look in your eyes from staring into tidepools. There is a constant ringing in your ears of the ocean. You find yourself constantly scanning the sides of the roads for dock, cow parsnips, mallow, jewelweed, clover. You know how to reach through brambles to the first ripe blackberries hidden in the shadows of poison ivy leaves. You know to go slow so you don't get poison ivy. You remember to say thank you. You eat those berries on the path. They are delicious. Even the ones that are not quite ripe and are a little bitter.

Farmers' Market was rained out today, my attempt at commercializing my passion for foraging, foiled. At first I was stressed out because I don't exactly have a lot of money in my river right now, but I took the few dollars I had and headed over to Juice 'N Java, drank some tea, laughed with friends, laid on the beach and swam in the huge southeast swell pounding the shores of the island right now. I let the island support me. I let my soul receive what it needed most. In return, I gave it great praise, for it is beautiful. Wild, mysterious, so powerful I am afraid of it sometimes when I forget myself. But when I remember who I am, when I am ducking under waves, coming up to laugh in the white seafoam, I know I am home.

wild carrot in bloom

Friday, July 9, 2010


Wild spinach, another lovely friend that grows right in the dunes like sea rocket. I am hoping to get over to Dorie's Cove today where there are usually a lot of wild spinach plants growing along the edge of the low bluffs that always feel so ancient to me. I imagine the Manisseans ate this plant, women picking leaves as they walked along the shore with their children. I see them out of the corner of my eye whenever I do the same. Do you see them? There are so many layers of time co-existing all around us. As time acceleration speeds up, this becomes more and more clear. I wonder what's going to happen when we reach the end/beginning point? What I know for sure is that I am being called to heal all of my unprocessed traumas so that the earth can be in a clear place, unburdened by my emotions, as she prepares to rebirth into galactic consciousness. I also know that foraging is part of my path in doing this. When I touch the plants, I touch the part of myself that remembers who I am, why I came to this planet, and what I have to do in the simplest and most complex way: wander, look closely, let my body lead me, enjoy the physical, express gratitude, and bless all that comes my way.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Friends in Flower

I am friends with all the plants I forage. I am more intimate with them than I am with people. I gaze deep into their petals or the undersides of their leaves. I touch them more than I touch people, digging their roots, snapping their stalks, plucking flowerheads, running my hands along leaves for pleasure. And most intimate of all-I eat them. I take them into my body and they become part of me that has not been possible for me with humans. This is something I long for--human connection. As this summer unfolds, I can see the ways trauma and shame have shaped my ability to connect with people. These are not easy discoveries to make, as you may know. I am grateful to all the plants for the bane they provide to soothe my nerves and body. I trust them in a way that I don't trust people. I know where to find them, year after year. Right now, many of the plants that are at their most delectable in spring are flowering, like this wild carrot, which you probably know as Queen Anne's Lace, by the side of Corn Neck Rd. I thought I would provide a few identifying photos of plants in flower now.

A flowering plant is easy to notice--young shoots or roots, not so easy. If you pay attention to the plants flowering around you now, it becomes easier to find them next spring when they are rising up from the ground, ready to be touched, eaten, to become part of you.

wild lettuce

One of my favorite spring greens, curly dock is easy to recognize by its brown flowers seen by roadsides all over the island right now.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cool as an Emerald

Here is a photo of mystically swirling sea lettuce to cool you down on this HOT day on Block Island. It, along with sea rocket, is the primary ingredient in my succulent seaweed salad. Stop by the Farmers' Market tomorrow morning if you want some. Sea lettuce spoils quickly. I will be out diving tonight to gather it, and if you see me wandering the dunes on the Neck, I am picking sea rocket, also orach, or wild spinach, which is up now.

Stay cool everyone! I strongly suggest that everyone get in the water, preferably with a mask and snorkel. You will be amazed at the underwater delights off the shores of Block Island. In the immortal words of Monkfish, president of Sea Squad, the BI Snorkelling Club, "You don't know unless you go."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Born Free: Milkweed

I am saving my words for my poetry, choosing carefully. My body is tired from biking and clambering down bluffs, swimming and diving, and dancing, oh yes, there were hours of dancing yesterday. For me, the 4th of July is the day I declare my own independence and encourage others to remember that we are all born free.

Like milkweed. Born free, flourishing in fields all over the island right now. Here is a photo of the young shoots last May. They are delicious to eat, but must be boiled in two changes of water for eight minutes each so as to nullify the toxic white sap that spurts from them when you slice the stalk with the tiny knife in your pocket.

And here is a photo of the salad I made from milkweed flowers last week.

And here is a poem by James Wright that beautifully expresses the delicacy and allure of this Queen of the Meadows.


While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At the touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


It is full summer, just a week or so after the solstice. The sun is waning, though you'd never know it. It is light until almost 9 and the ocean is very warm for this time of the year. I've been busy foraging, not so attached to my computer, which actually broke for a few days and really forced me to get out in the field. Thanks to my cousin Brian for fixing my power cord and getting me back on-line. I think I learned my lesson and can be trusted not not to be too attached to being "on-line," because that's not the way the world is, right? Hardly anything, when allowed its natural course runs in a straight line. Water meanders, hills flow up and down, trees bend in the wind. It is seaweed time. I've been spending a lot of time in tidepools gathering rockweed, clinging to rocks to forage laver, and snorkelling so I can get the deepest green sea lettuce for my seaweed salad. The sea lettuce that is closer to the surface gets bleached by the sun. I like the fronds that look like emeralds. I like to dive down deep and stick my hands into crevices where there might be a conger eel. I saw one once, sliding out at dusk from a crack in the jetty. It was truly terrifying, much more so than a shark, fat and undulating underneath me as the ocean grew dark. I swam quickly back to shore that evening, glad for my friends and the fire that awaited me.

Here are a couple of photos of my bread and butter, rockweed, known medicinally as rockweed. Along with Irish moss, it is the most common seaweed in Block Island waters. It pretty much grows on every rock around the island, in the ocean and in the Great Salt Pond. Some spots are better than others for foraging. I think the best comes from the tidepools between Vaill Beach and Black Rock, and from the pools  between Black Rock and Southwest Point. It's a long bike ride to reach them, and quite a hike down the bluffs, but once I'm there I always stay hours, wandering from pool to pool, sliding across the slick weeds that adorns the rock like the long, lustrous hair of mermaids.

There are many varieties of bladderwrack, some better than others for roasting. The photo directly below showing rockweed with flat fronds is the best. Knotted wrack, in the second photo, does not roast at all well so I never pick it. It turns hard as a toothpick and is not at all pleasant to chew on. Also, I am careful to forage sustainably. I do my best not to pull the roots of the plant off the rock so that it grows back. This takes some time, but I love the way the slippery weed feels between my fingers. If you want some roasted rockweed, find me at The Farmers' Market where I will be happily pontificating on the health benefits of seaweed and the pleasures of foraging. Ah, summer is sweet, don't you agree?

This bladderwrack above is best for roasting. Make sure to pick off the periwinkles, although they are edible if you want to eat them. 

This is knotted wrack, not so good for roasting, but pleasant to look at and touch. There are large beds of this in the Garden, one of Sea Squad's favorite snorkeling spots, right across from the Beachhead.

See you in the water friends!