Sauerkraut, and garlic are all that remain of last year’s garden – at least all that’s edible. This season’s new growth provides me with lettuce, spinach and chives. I can make a hell of a salad, but it’s a little calorie thin. I try to eat something I’ve grown every day and the middle to late spring is when it gets hardest. In about a month I’ll start to get much more and by June there’ll be peas, carrots and even some kale maybe.
When people relied only on what they could grow or hunt, spring was a tough time in climates that have real winter. The agricultural tasks of early spring demanded lots of calories; in the winter they ate stored foods and huddling round a fire. By spring stored foods ran thin, but also were more susceptible to rot and their native desire to germinate. With luck and careful husbandry there might be a few extra new born male animals that could provide some much needed protein, but staples were harder to come by and the animals were pretty lean after the winter as well – eating a scrawny chicken didn’t help much.
For purely hunting and gathering cultures spring must have been even worse. The hunting may have been fine, but there’s little to gather other than newly sprouted vegetation. And since that sparse vegetation is what the grazing animals were eating they were often pretty lean. Some hunter groups got such a large portion of their calories from lean protein that it became a problem (Speth, 1983). I imagine I’d move south.
We have no such problems of course, though the six-year old indigent boarder and one of his regular accomplices tried to get in touch with their inner-gatherer this weekend. They decided to mount an “explore” of the Pynchon meadows, or at least the part within 1/8th of a mile of our house.
As any good stone-age six-year old would, they gathered supplies: peanut butter crackers, flashlights and a compass. They also tried to drag along a spring loaded play-tent. The boss dissuaded them, but forced a walkie-talkie into their hands. The ensuing lessons in walkie-talkie use did not give me much hope for the future of our species.
About an hour later one of these pint sized gatherers was walking up the hill. In his hands he held several very large leaves. I asked him what his plans were and he told me that he had gathered a leaf for each member of the family. Our spring starvation worries were over.
“Did you smell it?” I asked.
“No.” One beat accompanied by a significant look, and a sniff, “Gross.”
“Yes, that’s skunk cabbage.” Another pause, “You didn’t eat any did you?”
“Just a bite, but I spit it out [accomplice’s name withheld] swallowed it.” He then informed me that there was a “whole field” of the stuff down in the meadows. Gosh, that’ll come in handy. I consoled myself with the fact that he spit it out. He should have smelled it, but why would he? He’s had no training in figuring out what’s edible and what isn’t. A six-year old in a hunter-gatherer society would probably kno wexactly what to eat in the woods. She’d certainly know to smell it before she stuffed it in her mouth.
I suspect that the experience may keep him from stuffing found greenery in his mouth, it’s a shame he doesn’t bring this same sense of adventure to the dinner table.