In case you didn’t know, I am currently driving back and forth to herb school every other weekend (and sometimes more). It is a six hour journey one way, and I have been doing this for well over a year now. I’m tired, but it’s all good and this blog post is in no way about how tired I am!
Except for the fact that being gone so much means that I haven’t been able to procure much wild food this season at all. And for anyone who gathers wild food, you know that this season is the staple harvest time- nutrient dense nuts and seeds are what’s up, and it is time to gather till you can’t gather any more, process until your fingertips are achy and calloused, and figure out your ways to prepare and preserve the harvest so you can sit back and enjoy the down time of the winter. Or, at least that is the idea.
Don’t get me wrong- I haven’t been doing nothing- I don’t think I could physically stand to do nothing. I have pecans and hackberries, but I also wanted to collect a good amount of hickory nuts and a goal of 10 lbs processed acorn flour for the freezer, plus more dried in the shell for later in the season. It’s been hard this year- squeezing in medicine making and fermenting the garden bounty, and homework and attempting to balance rest and self care with connection time with my husband and daughter and and and…
Long story short, while out for an evening stroll with the family, we came across the perfect Red Oak with perfect acorns, and the rest is history. I filled my purse, which is nowhere near my goal for the season, but it’s a start and it felt good to make a dent towards an accomplishment.
Dan put Ami to bed, and he was in another room tending to cracking pecans and jarring up some persimmon kimchi while I sat myself on the kitchen floor and began to crack and crack and crack. As I sat there by myself in silence, listening to two of my favorite podcasts (Rewild Yourself and Why Shamanism Now, for anyone uninitiated to these two gems), I periodically found myself cycling in and out of profound….anger. Mostly anger mixed with some sadness. Super unpleasant feelings to have wash over and refuse to leave entirely. I was reminded of a time in the middle of summer, when I went with a good friend to dig up some roots from sassafras trees that were due to be chopped down (not the ideal time for root digging, but you go with what you’re given sometimes). It was so hot, and the mosquitoes were unbearable that day. We were digging and sweating and pulling and fruitlessly swatting away mosquitoes. There was a moment when I said to her “You know, if I were alone here doing this, I would have stopped a long time ago.” And it was true.
Gathering food and medicine was never, ever meant to be a solitary activity. As humans, and especially as women, this is what we did with our time. We gathered. We gathered, we gossiped, we laughed, we shared stories and experience, we bitched about our husbands and partners, we talked about what we were making for dinner later (probably together), and whatever else friends who know each other intimately talk about. We went back home, rounded up our babies and kids, and got to work processing the bounty. Together. Laughing and singing and complaining about how much it sucked. Because, we are human after all. I have a feeling though, that these tasks were more joyful than not. I have this feeling because 1. Those life-ways persisted until patriarchal systems of agricultural colonialism told us we couldn’t live that way anymore and 2. I’ve participated in tasks that objectively suck- like killing and plucking chickens, and turning it into a party is way, way better than attempting to do it by yourself.
And to be honest, that is why I was cycling in and out of anger. I was angry that I had to do this by myself. The psychology of tedious and menial work, no matter how important that work is, is that community makes these tasks doable- pleasant even. My lifestyle these days meant that I didn’t have a choice but to be sitting on my kitchen floor at 11 pm, and every mama friend that I know was either sound asleep in bed or kicked back after a long day of parenting and/or working in a world where those two tasks are diametrically opposed. We can thank that dominant paradigm of patriarchal agricultural (now post-industrial) colonialism for that!
In the time that I have been actively teaching in my community, via plant walks, workshops and now my work as a practicing herbalist, I’ve had some critique that it appears as though I want to posit myself as “the expert” and simply hand out nuggets of information from on high. I think anyone who really knows me in any personal capacity at all would immediately know that is bullshit (although, I am always happy to hear feedback and constructive criticism of my work for sure- it’s how we grow as people). I want to be able to sit in community and process my damn acorns. I want to head out in small groups, babies strapped on to backs and kids in hand to gather what we need for our families, I want to be able to trade jars of preserves and plants because this makes our human experience far far richer. We were never meant to do this kind of work alone. And it is work! Just because something isn’t directly traded for whatever currency is fashionable at the time does not mean it is not inherently work. Let’s stop devaluing some tasks as work and some as hobby or some other word that relegates it to a realm less than exactly what it is.
On the other hand, I seized the opportunity last night to allow every crack of the shell and every pull of the acorn meat out out of said shell to be a meditation on gratitude and abundance. Although it makes me sad that we don’t live lives that allow for these tasks to be accomplished in a way that feels right to me (right now), I am nonetheless extremely grateful that 1. I have worked hard on building the skills for myself to make tasks such as these possible. 2. No matter how much we continue to cause destruction to our environment, the oak trees still keep on having mast years and 3. My life right now does not involve getting up at 6 am to go to a job, so that I can be up late pondering these sorts of things.
Ultimately though, this morning my daughter asked for pancakes. I made some for her with the flour from the acorns I gathered yesterday, processed last night and percolated overnight. These first acorn pancakes of the year are a humble reminder to me that although the process might be less than optimally connected, the ultimate goal is feeding my family with food that is bioregionally and biologically appropriate for human beings, nutrient dense and cheap or free. That goal was accomplished, and my daughter loved them. That being said, gathering wild foods is never just about the food. When you look at these small and seemingly insignificant actions in the larger context of our dominant culture, gathering wild foods is a vote for something. I suppose it is up to each individual to decide what that vote is for. I vote for connection to this land on which I reside. This land that is not, and will never be mine but which provides beautifully and selflessly.