Next to the train tracks, inbetween freeway arteries, imposing on lawns, it's food. When I look into the hills and see the Oregon forest whafting out its foresty coolness, I can smell the perspiration of the mushrooms and the fragrances of wild hardy greens.
Not just in the forest, the funky tangles of weeds you see on your city-wide bike rides likely have some edible plants in there too. The only thing standing between you and a wild-gathered dinner is some education. I've been trying to comb the books for knowledge. I love dandelion greens and the dandelion root makes a healthful roasty tea, and found crinolines of chamomile flowers on Sauvie Island also inspire the notion that in the weeds there are foods and teas. The plants that nudge concrete for little squares of livability, they seem even more enticing and delicious because of their determination, inhaling car exhaust and exhaling pigments and potential nutrition. I think wild surviving plants in the urban lifelessness hold an energetic essence that is helpful to our own defences.
I was inspired by a short story I read on the life of Euell Gibbons, left. The New Yorker recently published a collection of short stories on food, published through the years in its pages. Gibbons was profiled in one of my favorite stories in the collection. He took a reporter into the forest for a few very cold fall days in order to educate the man on stalking wild food. Late fall is not the most fertile time for edible plants in the climate they were exploring, but still Gibbons fed the man pretty well. They enjoyed greens and nuts and a few different edible aspects of the cattail. The men eat, but also become very acquainted. The profile is a beautiful story of an eccentric man's many adventures through wars and families and occupations, but also a portrait of one of the first contemporary enviornmentally observant cultural figures. There are many epiphanies and honest moments the men share; of course, it's because it's over breakfast, lunch and dinner, eating the foods that once soothed and propelled the more pacific natives to this continent.
People think that wild food in urban areas is pretty nasty. Euell Gibbons pointed out that the safety of food plucked in public city spaces was sterling compared to the pesticide-soaked roughage grown in farms at that time. I think Gibbons would agree that some urban spaces are more succulent than others. For instance, Oakland is not a very appetizing place for picking wild greens because there's condoms and TVs and hairpieces everywhere in the grass, but up here in North Portland, I stalk the mint! In Oakland, I judge the neighborhood and pluck rosemary in some places, but I will score any lemon still on the tree.
I remember when Michael and I were playing in JOMF and touring Italy, in Tarcento the residents had plots of arugula everywhere, even in the midst of freeway mazes and every meal I ate there that December featured the spicy and perky leaf. This edible plant was the landscaping.
I hope to have a mentor one day that will teach me about the edible plants of the region of the world where I want to own a home, the California Sierras. In the meantime, I will enjoy my new home in Oakland. I'll be there in less than a week, checking out the loquat and avocado trees in my backyard and popping off dandelion heads to make wine and identifying the violet.
I had a huge dinner planned for Honey and Liz last night, to fuel our jams, but the gas was shut off because the landlady forgot to pay the bill. It was ok, though, we had hummus and sushi rolls and a salad grown by Chabo and his wife. Very good. Tonight, no cooking, pizza and bike riding.