And just like that, after painting Wood Duck last month, two have returned to the pond to paddle. Not for long though, as our dog flushes them out and they wing up through cloudy skies, circling round and round to see whether we’re gone. Every year they come from wherever they’ve been to shape a nest in the woods to lay eggs in; once hatched we’ll see the whole family paddling, ducklings behind mama and papa until dog gives chase and with a flap and a flurry, into the trees they go.
Is it winter as yet? Sure smells, tastes, and feels like spring. Three days of rain and the creek flows clearly sweet, burbling and gurgling. The different sounds water makes as it meanders along is lovely; burbling and bouncing down over rocks, a trickle here, a gush there with a plop or two mixed into watersong. These warm mornings we’ve been outside by the creek just looking at the water and listening, until a cackle of crows flies overhead and we look up to watch them go caaw caaw caawing, counting crows, and then it’s squatting on a rock over watery ripples.
Today, while the moon is still new and moving from the constellation of The Fish into The Ram, we had a second session sowing seeds in flats of soil. Drew lines in crumbly dark soil with our fingers and pressed tiny rounds that’ll become cabbage, flat white grains holding tomatoes within, and gnarly knotty squarish bits pregnant with chard into the ‘rows’ and covered them up. They germinate and grow slower than the kales and lettuces, zinnias and napas that’ll be sown later. Outside, the first skunk cabbages are peeking out from under the leaves, mosses cover damp logs, and there’s blue green usnea on branches knocked down by rain. Chickadees and juncos seem to like them, reminding us to gather carefully our medicine as it’s more than medicine for feathered folk, a delicate balance.
Watching what squirrels, chipmunks, birds, deer, and rabbit eat, amongst other woodland creatures, teaches a whole lot about the plant world, which while it’s readily available is also daily sustenance for more than us humans. These mountains were once filled with ginseng, whose roots were part of chipmunks and squirrels diets, but have long since become a rarity from over harvesting . . . as it’s told, each of the ginseng hunters thought they were harvesting a little, but then they also thought they were the only ones to do so in ‘secret’ spots, until there’s now only a few plants remaining; slow growing as they are it’s to be seen whether they’ll ‘comeback’. Same with mushrooms, often time it’s people from town who come hunting up the mountain where the lushness suggests enormous abundance. They come and gather sacksfull, which they call a little bit, generously disclosing the locations of these bounty full places to their friends . . . in the ocean of so much, a sackful may be perceived as merely a little . . . open to interpretation, what one man calls ethical foraging may look like reckless hunting to another.
Often the eyes don’t perceive all the creatures that eat these foraged foods, easy to miss when gathering on a visit to spaces that aren’t home, but are home to others out of sight. It’s kind of like going through a neighbourhood in another town, walking uninvited through someone’s garden who isn’t around, and digging out potato or echinacea, helping oneself to basil, mint, or cucumbers, just because, well they’re abundant and available and fill-in-the-blank as to the all-natural health benefits. Of course we don’t do that on private property in neighbourhoods, yet in the absence of ownership and possession, we treat the wilderness as though it’s not also a neighbourhood to non-human residents who wander, scamper, and roam; as though it’s here, a free for all, for human pickings above all else. It’s a funny paradox, the animal loving vegetarian who harvests sacksful of animal food for human consumption and resale without digging deeply into considering what impact this’ll have on the animals loved and the places of inhabitance.
There are the finest of threads in the forest reaching out in all directions, connecting above and below ground, extending and withdrawing, dropping, sticking, releasing, tip to tip, root to root, everything purposed, a symphony conducted by an invisible hand that is inclusive and inviting. It welcomes and calls, come and be here too, sit, stand, skip, wander, gather, hunt, forage, pick, stay a while, refresh, rejuvenate, restore, sing along, the wilderness neighbourhood is open to all, only:: come with awareness, come with respect, come as a participant, come as a guest, don’t hold back, be free, come as children do, move rocks, branches, leaves, come and play . . . while conducting in accord and resonance with place, and then, just like that everything falls into place. Bit by bit.