Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Finding Spring

We go out and find Spring every year. I roust the family on a nice Sunday morning and badger them around the house until, finally, they surrender, get dressed, and climb into the car and we drive north to our "Finding the Spring" place. Once we arrive and extract ourselves from the car, we all relax. Especially the dogs and I. Man and his canines get really antsy when they don't get out to the woods much. While the whole family truly enjoys walks in the woods, only Emma and I really believe we could depart society and live like savages in the wilds of Western Pennsylvania. Hannah thinks she could join us but would only last until she realized that there is a shortage of couches in the woods. I know Emma shares my fantasies of a feral existence without alarm clocks and no-cat-killing rules (man and dog fantasies, respectively). But for now, we all hike together.

How do we find Spring in the woods? Spring=ramps. It doesn't matter what the television or the calendar says, when I can walk through the woods and fill my sinuses with the sulfur skank smell of mature ramp funk, spring is here. Asparagus, a delightful spring treat, is about two weeks behind. Strawberries at least a month. Of the six creatures that go to the woods, only I search so eagerly for the first ramp patch. Zoe loves the trilium flowers, Jake the mud, Mary the chance to let the rest of us walk ahead while she climbs a tree in kid- and husband-free silence. Hannah and Emma enjoy rolling in fresh deer scat and long-dead animal carcasses. But I get off on finding the ramps. Sure it is great to see the young skunk cabbage (completely worthless as food) and the dwarf ginseing (absolutely non-medicinal). But the ramps, with their flavor and purgative qualities, are what I come for.

Since I have included a picture of ramps that grow in this place, I politely decline to disclose the location of our spring hike place. Suffice to say that it is on Western Pennsylvania Conservancy land and any harvest or picking is prohibited. I am loathe to encourage a soul unfamiliar with responsible wild foraging to make a digging foray and destroy the ecosystem there. However, the fact that my amazing ramp patch is off limits to harvesting is just fine with me. If I was allowed to harvest my ramps, I'd feel obliged to dig a shopping bag full and bring them home and worry over using them up before they rotted. And a small family can only take a few ramps. I get mine from people that have cultured their own patches or who I know are responsible wild-harvesters. Of course, I cannot deny that I'll pinch a leaf or two to munch as we walk. Never hurts anyone, just helps me to assess the quality this season.

My breath is bad, the ramps are good. It is a good year so we should eat them up!

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