More Wildcrafting, Less Gardening. More Joy, Less Stress.
Last year, an important balance shifted. I found my self, and there I was, outside - on a bike, in the wild, adventuring, and for the first time, whole, complete. And I realized that's where I fit in, where I wanted to be, to maximize my time.
See the picture above? That's it. That's where I want to be, in the arms of the incomparable Rocky Mountains - riding new trails and exploring, covered in mud and sweat and thorns, happily breathing that clean low-oxygen air and feeling a part of it all, the spiral of time in this place, my place.
And so this year, the growing season looks quite different to me. I'll be spending more time on my bike, collecting wild foods and herbs, and less time in the garden. Seems like a win win situation to me. To my mind, foraging and cycling go hand in hand - stroke upon stoke the days go by, the plants live and die, and live again, and so do I.
This is actually quite a dramatic change from last year. That year, I gardened heavily, compulsively. I had a plot in both the front and back yards, a homemade plastic and pvc greenhouse, and more containers than I could count. For almost nine months last year, through snow storms and wind storms and all of the bone-tired heat, I spent a bare minimum of 30 minutes per day in the garden, sometimes much more. Add to that foraging wild foods and medicine, and all of the preparation and cleaning involved in pickling, freezing, and canning, and two full-time jobs, and I was completely worn out (and pretty darned grumpy) by the end of the growing season.
Part of this comes from the fact that I come from farm families on both sides, and growing things is in my blood and a bit involuntary; I love to watch the magic of life emerging anew from seed. The other part of the equation last year, which admittedly set off some sort of imbalance in me, was a touchier subject.
That year, over the winter, I knew that my friend Charles, who had been fighting cancer, had a terminal diagnosis. But foolishly, with a child-like tooth fairy-type belief, I thought that if he had something to look forward to (a garden), that he would live. And so, as we sat through the horror of all of those chemotherapy and radiation sessions, we planned a garden, a misguided manifestation of hope. He barely lived long enough to see the first seeds emerge, dissolving into little red bubbles and being carried away in the early April winds.
But I'm really quite thankful for that lesson, for learning that I took on too much last year. It's true that I fed a lot of people, and am still doing so from that crop. But it was just too much, too much work. That, combined with the fact that I fell in love with wild foods, led to an entirely different mindset this year, one in which a balance has been struck. Finally, balance.
Gardening is labor intensive - from trying to prepare and supplement the local heavy clay soils, to mulching and weeding, trying to manage the ridiculously short growing season, constant watering in a dry climate, the tornadoes and hail, harvest and preparation. Lots of resources are invested into a rather unnatural process - trying to make plants grow where they wouldn't naturally - water, worms, compost, time, labor. Foraging, on the other hand, takes advantage what is already available in the wild, aside from mindful harvesting time, very little energy is consumed.
The other exciting new element this year is that I will be part of a gardening collective/ yard share program. A group of my bike-loving friends have banded together, and we hope to spread out the resources and love this year by sharing our garden harvests. This is especially exciting because we hope that our weekly meeting will be a destination ride/ pot luck type affair. How could you go wrong - building a greater sense of community, sharing resources, and decreasing everyone's work load?
This, combined with wildcrafting also has another great advantage - it spreads projects/labor/preserving throughout growing season. This year, instead of working myself into a mindless stupor with gardened harvest in the fall, I will be pick and preserving smaller harvests throughout the growing season. In the spring, hopefully I will be able to dry some morels and pickle some asparagus. In the summer, I will put aside some cattail pollen and make berries into wine. And in the fall, there will be less of a need to put up food, and I can be selective about my labor and crops.
And what it all comes down to is this - more wildcrafting and less gardening means that there is a greater ease in my life, and an easier flow. With mindful collecting of wild plants, combined with hunting small game (rabbits, squirrel, and dove) and collection of road kill, and a small amount of gardened produce, I can spend more time biking and hiking in the mountains, feel sane and happy, and still feed my people.
What's more, all of this provides me with greater happiness because living so closely aligned with what is going on outside daily provides me with context. It provides an acute awareness, of time, of place, of alignment, of both smallness and greatness, of cycles and seasons, of humanity and life in the greater circle.
All of this has given me a large degree of freedom. I used to pour through cookbooks, make lengthy grocery lists, worry about meals and dietary minutia and how I was going to feed my family. Now, all of those restrictions and rules and worries are gone. Food is no longer an area of stress in my life, but a source of pleasure, tastes to be discovered, seasons to be savored, each day, each food, flowing into the next in a logical and easy progression. My food world is no longer dominated by desires and what is not possible. Instead, my meals, indeed my life, are dictated by abundance, local and seasonal and good.
And don't get me wrong, I live in suburbia. I like to indulge in imported foods like salt and pepper, for example. I still buy fun cheese from the grocery, and tortillas from the local tortillaria. I love to occasionally indulge in a (glass) bottle of Coke, or a sip of sweet or tannic wine. I enjoy the delights of global living and believe in moderation. To my mind, none of this is about fundamentalism or zealotry. Instead, it has been a journey to discover what makes sense, what fits, what creates harmony and secures joy in my life.
I'm sharing with the Hearth and Soul hop, and Real Food Wednesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and Fight Back Friday.