Why wild food?

My first gardening experience came when I was a teenager. Back then “gardening” for me was an after school job at a small, family-owned garden center, lugging around a heavy, interminable garden hose to water, each in their turn: the herbs, the perennials, the shrubs, and the flats of annuals. Out alone among the plants, I felt a sense of peace. It was one of my first realizations that I felt much happier being outside, even in the stifling humidity of summer. My moments in the herb section were my favorites – I would rub the leaves of the different varieties while I watered, discovering the incredible secret fragrance each contained.

Twenty-something years later, I have graduated from plant-waterer to full-fledged gardener. Once you’ve discovered the pleasure of watching your own zucchini grow from seed, stickered and packaged grocery store produce loses much of its charm. And yet, this isn’t quite enough. Perhaps falling in love with plants opens one’s curiosity about them to more than just those found in a plant nursery. Becoming a gardener may be a slippery slope for some of us; many of us eventually start to ask, why not wild food? Why not eat weeds and edible native plants too?

Considering the incredible amount of food waste we generate in the developed world, and the resources that go into growing, packaging, transporting and retailing most food, it feels like an act of rebellion to source even part of one’s food needs from what nature is willingly offering instead of what we must beat out of it. Many weeds and other wild foods grow without watering or other maintenance, so harvesting these edibles also appeals to those of us who prefer a lazier approach to bringing food to our tables.

 

Beyond the environmental and economical benefits, I also like to incorporate wild food into my diet for the nutritional advantage. Fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients shortly after being harvested – just how much depends on the fruit or vegetable. The best way to get the maximum amount of nutrition from your produce is to eat it quickly after harvest. When we overlook the wild edibles growing in our yards, we’re missing out on free vitamins and minerals just there for the plucking.

Chad and I have harvested fruit from a neglected apricot tree in town, nibbled on sweet, candy-like huckleberries in the Uintah mountains, tasted milkweed pods, spiced things up with sumac, savored little mallow seed heads while weeding our garden, and cooked up pots full of delicious lambsquarters, pigweed and amaranth.

I am not a wild foods expert, but I’m slowly working on it. If you are interested in beginning to eat wild foods, find people in your area who are knowledgable and experienced to help you get started. You will certainly be able to find a few easy to identify weeds, preferable in areas that haven’t been sprayed and don’t have run off from roads. Dandelion is one that most of us can recognize, and beyond the fun of blowing off the puffy seed head while you make a wish, you can eat the greens as a salad and harvest the root for tea. Why buy dandelion tea at Whole Foods when you have dandelions growing by your front step?

 

Idaho sheepherder wagon

One of the most interesting spots we’ve stayed in during our travels together was in a little sheepherder wagon in Idaho. We were on our way to the zone of Totality during the 2017 Eclipse, and this ended up being a nice stopover on the way to our destination. And yes, everything else was already booked.

We arrived at the wagon after dark so the next morning we enjoyed discovering our picturesque location. Chad was excited about getting up with the sun to take photos. I was excited about getting some extra sleep.

While I snoozed in the wagon, Chad wandered around taking photos and found some chokecherry trees, with berries much bigger, juicier and more delicious than the ones we have at home, so he grabbed some for the road! They obviously get more rain in Idaho than we do here in Utah.

Chad also did some wildlife observing next to a little stream.

I finally got out of bed and then we enjoyed our breakfast at the fold-up table and chairs we’d brought.

Until we got there I didn’t think to ask where the bathroom was going to be. As Chad pointed out, if you’re used to camping, this little portable toilet is a nice step up from squatting in the bushes.

Sleeping in this little wagon was a fun experience, very cosy and intimate. Good thing the hotels and campgrounds were full and we were able to try it out!

Airbnb listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14656207

Intentional Spending Plan

As mentioned here before, Chad and I try to be creative about what we do for our weekly date night. The beginning of a new year always feels like a great time to do a life assessment, so we sat down together just after the turn of the year to discuss our goals for 2018 as a couple.

I heard a radio show about one of my favorite authors’ “year of no shopping” and  mentioned this to Chad. During our date night discussion I brought this up again and asked if there was some way we could be inspired by this idea. We ended up coming up with our own version of it and had a lot of fun doing so. We’re calling it our “Intentional Spending Plan,” aka, “Voluntary Simplicity.”

Rather than make a blanket statement that there would be no shopping at all, we came up with a list of categories, then discussed whether we could do without buying anything at all in certain categories or whether we wanted to allow ourselves a limited number of purchases.

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Leo is on board for less shopping and more play!

Considering these potential purchases in categories helped both of us to see purchases in a new light. While neither of us would consider shopping a recreation or hobby, we both admitted that there are times when we buy things just for fun rather than out of need. Even when you shop mostly at thrift stores or antique shops as we do, you can still end up with more clothes than you’ll ever wear or more doodad’s than you have shelves for.

My personal weakness is books, which I tend to buy very liberally, ending up with a backlog I need to read. By creating a limit of how many books I will buy this year, I will have to choose my purchases more carefully and can finally get to reading some of the ones that are already on my shelves.

One of the other areas where we are both no-holds-barred spendthrifts is on seeds. While working on our intentional spending plan we made what we thought was a very frugal allowance for the number of seeds we would buy for the upcoming planting season. After making an inventory of our seeds and discovering that we already have, for instance, over 50 winter squash varieties, we ended up reducing this even further.

All in all the point of the exercise for us is to keep moving away from a consumer mindset. Consumerism as a way of life can be very hard to avoid. TV was once advertisers’ medium of choice, but now the internet and especially social media are littered with advertising. It can be a challenge to resist these highly personalized marketing attempts – they know what we have been googling and what our weaknesses are.

Stuff requires resources, and both of us would rather leave resources in the natural environment and dedicate our own funds to charity, experiences, and savings. And as a new couple still laying the foundations of our relationship, this was a more entertaining way for us to talk about finances than sitting down and coming up with a traditional budget together.

As we start 2018, we both have our intentional spending plan checklists and are excited about using this to make spending choices throughout the year. We’ll report back to you in 2019 and let you know how it went!

 

Ouray Badlands

Badlands, so-called because you supposedly can’t grow anything on them, are characterized by their eroded, bare-looking, rounded slopes showing a lot of colorful striations. I’ve been intrigued with them since learning about them at work, enchanted by aerial views of land forms I couldn’t quite figure out but was eager to get a closer look at.

I finally got a much closer look when we went to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a place known for its wetlands and migratory birds, to hike on the badlandy hills there. (Yes, badlandy is a word. At least it is now.) It was a steep and rugged climb getting to the top of the hills, but once we were there it was just magical.

Soon after we arrived at the top Chad picked up a piece of something I assumed was a rock, had me look at it, and told me it was a piece of fossilized turtle shell. I’m enough of a nerd that fossils in the wild really bowl me over – in this case I was in disbelief. As we looked, we kept finding more and more pieces of turtle shell. We took photos but left the fossils there, as you should if you find fossils on public land. I still find it just amazing that we were able to go hiking on ground that was probably under water millions of years ago, and discover traces of the former inhabitants, just lying on the ground. Moments like these really help put things into perspective for me.

Walking on the ridges and running up and down the slopes of the hills was a ton of fun. Hiking on terrain like this just might be one of my favorite things to do. The vistas are beautiful, the ground is beautiful, and those hills are actually not as barren as they look. We saw plenty of plants growing here and there.

The only thing that marred the experience for me was that beyond the edge of the refuge, the horizon was littered with the tell-tale shapes of oil wells. Alas, the refuge is literally surrounded by them. That is what drives the economy in this neck of the woods. I can’t help dreaming of an alternative though, where eco-tourism is the force that gives people their paychecks instead of the polluting, depleting oil and gas industry. I imagine some of you out there may think I’m exaggerating, always harping on environmental issues. But I think whatever your stance on the environment, for someone who is an outsider to this region of the country, it is just shocking to see how much of the landscape is marked by oil and gas. Which is one of the reasons Chad and I want to show you the beautiful landscapes that need protection from the spread of industry.

We will return to Ouray for more hikes, no doubt, but I will always have a lump in my throat as we drive past the oil wells to get there.

Yellow Flower Desert Pinnacle

When Chad and I need a quick hike, this is our new favorite location, the place we call Yellow Flower Desert. We discovered this area, just off of one of our major highways, several months ago and were enchanted at how quickly we were able to get to fun hiking terrain. When we went this time, we spotted a location in the distance that we wanted to checkout. As we approached, I thought it looked like a cool natural amphitheater, albeit, with a pinnacle in the middle of it. Chad was drawn to the pinnacle. So we set out towards this spot, and weren’t disappointed when we got there.

 

 

The pinnacle and sides of the amphitheater were about the height of a 3-story building, we figured. It felt like a very special place to both of us. Sometimes you just find one of those places in nature that seems to have a healing energy to it. We both did some yoga poses near the pinnacle, but my favorite pose was simply sitting near it, soaking up some positive earth energy.

The day after this hike I flew back to NC to spend some time with my family, which created such an interesting contrast – being alone in the peaceful desert one day and the next, back in the busy sprawl of Charlotte. Being familiar with different locations is, I think, similar to being familiar with different languages. Both give you a broader perspective of the world. I’m so lucky to be able to learn something of the language of the desert.