I’ve put a lot of miles under me this spring between Victoria, B.C. and the Klondike Valley,
and had thought I would be riding the green wave north. It is true that there were more leaves out on the Gulf Islands than there were when I arrived at home in Mount Lorne, but in between I was reminded of the importance of all the other factors besides latitude that influence the timing of the cycles we study as phenology (cyclical patterns in plant and animal activities). At home I see this on a small scale as my neighbours and I all compare our nightly lows during the last hard frost, but of course it is just as relevant across the distance from the 49th to the 61st parallels. Proximity to water, rainfall, elevation, slope, aspect, soil type… all of these things influence microclimates, and in turn the plant communities that live in a place.
As a dedicated forager I try to make note of these sorts of variables, especially when I discover a particularly choice patch of wild edibles.
Understanding the lay of the land and the companions that are growing nearby can help me to identify other likely spots, and it is much easier to keep an eye out from the canoe, for instance, for an open, south-facing hillside than it is for a single tiny plant that might like to grow on that slope. In theory anyways.
I also spend a lot of my winter evenings poring over plant guides and ecology texts, but come summer and the season of outside I am more often than not surprised at what I find out there.
As an example of observations useful and perhaps less so, I’ve written before about the unique communities of plants that I’ve seen establish themselves on beaver dams and lodges, likely taking advantage of the accumulation of nutrients.
I’ve noticed a similar effect not in species so much but in size and health of especially robust plants along the edges of well-used trails and around outhouses – our bodies and our canine companions produce a lot of fertilizer! Whether you want to ingest them is another matter…
When I roam about in the bush I am always foraging in a kind of non-focused way. I unconsciously look for landforms, trees and water bodies that remind me of places where I’ve had a successful harvest.
These days I’m on lungwort – the leaves taste like cucumbers – and spruce tips.
When I hit the jackpot I file away a mental image of the place and it adds itself to a sort of averaged picture that becomes the search pattern next time I’m on the hunt for a particular treat.
Sometimes this pattern contains what seems like a paradox. As a youngster I would pick cranberries at the base of rocky outcrops rising from thick wet moss that barely supported leaning spruce trees – the kind of drunken forest you can see around Dawson and Yellowknife, where I learned my berries.
Now I live on a landscape with nothing but sand beneath – and lo and behold the first thing that creeps out from the bare, desert-like patches in the pine needle carpet are cranberries.
Is there a lesson in there? What I take away is to keep paying attention, keep wandering and keep finding delight in the beauty and bounty that we are so privileged to be surrounded by. Forage on, friends!