A Promise Withheld
I’m referring to wild, edible plants, the kind that foragers seek in spring. Each plant breaks ground, grows and matures according to a pre-set timetable. Each in its own time and nothing can change that.
In other words, dandelions always present themselves well ahead of ostrich fern fiddleheads and jewelweed always reaches its prime just after fiddleheads. Never, ever, will we see jewelweed ahead of dandelions, for instance. The problem this year, though, is that even dandelions are late because of the damp, cold weather. And until dandelions prevail, the other plants must wait in line, as it were.
In a normal year, this late-arriving spring would cause some consternation. This year, though, is anything but normal. Maine remains in an enforced lockdown, with stores and restaurants shuttered, movie theaters closed and people of faith constrained from worshiping together. We are allowed to participate in outdoor activities as long as we stay well apart from one another, and foraging ranks as a permitted activity.
The problem is, there is little to forage. By late April and early May, we should have a lengthy list of wild goodies to harvest. However, cold and frequent snow have conspired to slow plant’s metabolisms, thus retarding their growth until conditions improve.
Here’s another troublesome thing about this dearth of wild, edible plants. I grow my own vegetables and can and freeze them. But my homegrown produce from last year has almost run out. Normally, I would make a seamless transition from canned and frozen to fresh-picked, wild foods. By now, totally wild meals would be the order of the day. That hasn’t happened yet, due to lingering winter conditions.
Sure, fresh vegetables are available from the store. I always balked at commercially-grown produce, though. Mostly, things such as lettuce, cucumbers and green beans are well past their peak by the time they reach supermarket shelves. Besides that, who knows what kinds of pesticides were used in growing them? Also, watching people pick up vegetables, inspect them and then put them back on the shelf, always made me uncomfortable. What might those people have on their hands? Do I really want to eat what they just pawed over? The answer is a resounding, “No.”
That’s why wild, edible plants are so important.
Soon, things will and must change. May could see a continuation of the current weather pattern. Even so, the sun grows higher with each passing day and in that we place our hope for an end to cold temperatures and snow showers.
When the change finally occurs, I wager that we’ll be like colts let out of the barn for the first time in spring. As soon as we can go afield, minus heavy clothes and gloves, all will be forgotten.
So take heart. Though spring eludes us at the moment, the end draws near. We’ve weathered similar conditions in the past and we’ll weather the current situation too.
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An avid writer and naturalist, Tom writes four regular columns and a multitude of features. He wrote a long running award winning column "Waldo County Outdoors" and a garden column for Courier Publications