It probably seems strange to say that the foraging season is just now starting, since everyone down in the continental United States (aka “the lower 48”) began picking through the woods for weeks already. But up here, winter has a way of overstaying its welcome, well into April and sometimes May. So instead of nettles popping up in late March and early April, we typically don’t get them until mid-May.
Last week I began to see photos of them pop up on Instagram, and a few friends messaged me to let me know that they had, as well. So I headed for Kincaid, where they’d been spotted, feeling like I was hunting for Big Foot.
I’ll be honest, here: foraging is not my expertise. I wish that I was one of those people who grew up picking through parks and forests, always able to identify what everything is. But I’m not. Before this summer, I’d only ever picked bladder wracks, fireweed, and blueberries. And each time, I was accompanied by someone who knew what to look for.
But that wasn’t about to stop me. I read up on nettles, and had seen them around dozens of times around the city. So I felt pretty confident that I could adequately pick them without poisoning myself. It seemed like a better start to foraging than mushrooms, where I definitely plan on taking an experienced guide.
I felt nervous, wondering if I would be any good at it on my own, or if nature would find some cruel way to kill me. And then we saw them. Poking right out of the ground with their stabby little stems (seriously, those assholes do not want you to mess with them, wear gloves).
Once I’d cut a few leaves, leaving enough for the next person to take some, I fell into a rhythm. Walk, cut, run with Moosie, cut some more, etc. The sun beat down on us, and a comfortable breeze made the whole thing seem so…idyllic.
The sun beat down on us, warming our skin, and the birds tweeted at us while we worked. And before we knew it, an hour had gone by. Then an hour and a half, and it only felt like ten minutes. I understood then why people do this. Why people live their lives according to an almanac of seasons and berries and fish runs and harvests.
It becomes addictive, and with each growth of nettle that I left for the person behind me, I felt silently connected to the community. As if the person foraging behind me would know what I had done, and would be grateful for it.
So perhaps a little trip to the park is the start of a new habit. I’ve begun to think about fiddlehead ferns, and lilacs, and blueberries. I’ve forged friendships with people who know the wild foods of Alaska and all that they have to offer. People who told me what to do with the nettles once I finally found them and how to dry them on my kitchen counter.
In spite of – or maybe because of – our upcoming move, I’ve found myself gazing more and more at my surroundings, taking it all in before it’s gone from my life. I think that change is good, sometimes. It kicks us into gear and forces us to look at the world a different way. And I’m grateful for that.
Until next time, hug a forager and harvest well.