When he was a boy, Jonah Raskin’s father used to take them out down the beach at low tide, and below the water line looking for clams. They’d occasionally fall into arguments with their neighbors, but his father — a lawyer — knew his business, the property line stops at the waterline. He also brought home perhaps another important lesson — don’t take home more than you need.
Jonah Raskin now lives on an old farm in Sonoma, and gleans from old orchard trees, a neighbor farmer lets him pick what he needs from his fields, and goes out know and again for mushrooms.
Mushroom pickers delight in sharing recipes for their finds, but are notoriously secretive about their locations. Locations are jealously guarded secrets because people fear coming back to their spot and finding nothing left.
Leaving something behind is a big part of a foragers ethic — not just leaving it for others, but leaving something to continue growing. Jonah Raskin once recalled pulling a friend up off the ground to get the friend to stop, so consumed he was by the idea of getting it all (the impulse perhaps that underlies the success of places like CostCo!).
And this is the dilemma that underlies foraging, or at least the continued expansion of foraging — if significant numbers of people did it, we could strip the land bare. Jonah started the talk talking about the definitions of foraging — and one image is that of armies having foragers marching across the land taking everything and anything they could lay their hands on.
We talked about mushrooms of course, but also hunting, and fishing, berry picking, snail eating, looking for roots, stalking asparagus (read Euell Gibbons), and things like nettles and miner’s lettuce.
As an activity to bring food from the wild to ones table, there is a lot to recommend foraging. It tastes better. It gets us outdoors. It connects people to the outdoors in ways unlike any other activity. Jonah has met more than a few Native Americans gathering, and has come to more of an understanding the reverence for which they hold those things they take and eat. None of it we can take for granted. From early on, humans have sadly proved to have great capacity to reduce what nature has to offer.
As a bonus, here is a great Robert Haas poems Jonah read:
Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan
(there was another: Fall, which I was unable to find online)
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