The Fine Art of Foraging

For this Fourth of July, I chose to celebrate a day of independence by stressing out to prepare for a holiday party, nor by figuring out which fireworks show to go to, nor by basking in the presence of President Bush during his visit to Monticello here in Charlottesville.

No, for this Fourth of July, I tapped into the American spirit of freedom by going wild and getting out into the wild: I went out foraging for wild berries.

Luckily for me this was pretty easy, given the fact that I live in the country and have been walking by a seemingly endless stretch of wineberry bushes (and a few blackberry bushes) growing conveniently along the gravel drive. Oh, the tension of temptation has been building for so, so long now as I have watched the bushes form their little fuzzy pods, the pods pop open with the unripe berries peeping out, the berries growing redder and redder like little organic rubies building up their brilliance….

So on this day, at long last, I declared my independence from self-restraint and heroic patience by diving into the (thorny!) berry patches and going wild…and pickin’ pickin’ pickin’ away.

Sticky fingers, bloody limbs, ticks and other creepy-crawlies: nothing could prevent me from reaching out and picking one shiny little globule after another. And once the container started to get pretty full, there was no sense of guilt in popping more in my mouth than saving for later.

And oh, the sweet fireworks! All the woes of labor, all the blood and sweat and tears (from the thorn pricks), melted away as the berries exploded on my tongue. My taste buds saluted and sparkled, then they swam in the sugary flood just before it flowed down my throat.

My blood seemed to tingle, too, but not only from the sugar saturating and making redder the red cells. I felt as if I were taking a trip down the genetic staircase and tapping into the gathering instinct of my ancient forebears that have carried through the generations. It felt primal, primordial, and absolutely natural to be out foraging for my food.

Indeed, I felt somehow closer to nature and to the Earth, for I realized just how bountiful nature is and how life finds so many ways to endure…sometimes in ways that are delicious and beneficial! Yes, it became clear how life carries on and, in doing so, nourishes more than just the particular organism doing the living. In the life of one, these berries seemed to sing out, is the promise of life for all.

These sensations and sentiments from foraging in the wild are much deeper, stronger than those we get from gardening. Although a garden can also give us direct experience with nature and insights into the processes of nature, it still seems far too “domesticated” in comparison to foraging. Moreover, it requires a lot more work on our part!

When we go out foraging for wild foodstuffs, be they berries and other fruits or greens (such as dandelion) or herbs or fungi, we simply reap the generosity and copiousness of nature. We find ourselves free from expenditure and free to enjoy the yummier products of natural processes. Foraging is so essential, so lively, so natural, and so sweet. And unlike hunting, that other ancient human “art,” gathering wild food does not bring with it the cost of taking another sentient being’s life; in many cases, such as with the berries, you can gather your food without killing even plant life.

As I picked one berry after another, then, I said a silent “Thank you” in my heart to the bush and to the Earth for the sweet gifts they were giving me. Even as I reaped the bounty of nature, I carried and gave back my reverence for what I had been given.

As I rambled back from the bramble patch, then, I virtually floated along, high on the joy (not the sugar; I did not glut myself…this time!) of having communed with nature, of having gotten back to my genetic roots, by going berry-pickin’.

Oh, what a way to celebrate a holiday! Give me sweet berries or give me death!

Image credit: Corvus moneduloides at Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Verda Vivo

    Oh this makes me miss the wild blackberries that grew on my Mother’s ranch in Oregon. And the wild strawberries that grew on the dunes. Our dog discovered how delicious they were so it became a race to see who could get to the berries first! ~ Daryl

  2. derek

    In my town, there are tons of fruit trees in people’s yard, and many of them just drop fruit because they aren’t cared for. We knock on the door and ask to harvest some, and we are rarely turned down.

  3. Remco Gerlich

    I wonder why this is on a sustainability blog. Humans developed agriculture because it supports a larger population; foraging is much less work, but nature’s reserves are exhausted with a few people per square mile.

    So it’s obviously fun and natural, but if you want sustainability, look elsewhere.

  4. Justin Van Kleeck

    Fair question, Remco. I think this post, and the idea of foraging in general, is not out of the sustainability universe. You are right that foraging will exhaust nature’s reserves, but so does any agricultural endeavor. When foraging, you get what is available and then that is it; as a result, you encounter the *limitations* that are part of nature and so realize that endless consumption is neither a good idea nor possible.

    Also, I would argue that getting out into nature and enjoying its different forms of nourishment encourages a desire to preserve nature, and so it contributes to sustainability that way. Plus it is sustaining for the human being to get such nature experiences!

  5. Lydia

    I spent the day before the Fourth of July quite similarly. My father has always loved blackberries, and while we where on vacation we frequently stopped to eat some along the country roads. Sadly, where I live, the only place to find edible wild berries is in my backyard, where we have three blackberry bushes in pots.

  6. Aurelia

    Where I used to live I had a cherry tree and a blueberry bush in the backyard. In summer my family and I used to pick the fruit and have nice bowls of berries. It was such a wonderful feeling, to eat those berries that we picked ourselves and had watched growing. It’s a lot different than buying them in packages at the grocery store!

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