Spring starts in four days. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.
I now understand why New England is populated with hardy New England stock. In a population shift dating back to the Pilgrims, all the sissies took to the hills after their first February up here. What was left were the people who were willing to put their underwear on in October and take it off in April.
I’m beginning to see the merit of that system. In the dead of winter, when the temperature outside is in single digits and the temperature inside is hovering around brisk, it’s hard to muster the courage to take a shower – or engage in any other activity that involves removing your base layer. And so I’ve noticed that the lacy little La Perla confections have migrated to the back of my underwear drawer, displaced by more practical options. You know the thrill is gone when you choose underwear that keeps you warm and doesn’t show the dirt.
(Luckily, the same landscape that keeps us clothed all winter works in reverse in the summer, when we can skinny-dip in perfect privacy. Unless our neighbors have very powerful binoculars. Like we do.)
Fortunately, there are signs that that winter’s giving up the ghost. It’s only mid-March, but there are a few lonely sprigs of greenery poking up through last year’s leaves, and they inspired me to pick up a classic in the annals of living off the land: Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons.
Gibbons stretches the limits of edibility to their breaking point, including plant foods that have to be boiled for hours before they’re palatable (acorns), used in very small quantities (cattail flour), or are simply not appreciated by the “average palate” (sassafras paste). But he includes many more promising choices (huckleberries! wild leeks!), and even a couple of things that might be coming up in mid-March.
Which is why I spent this morning walking our two acres looking for green things to eat, hoping to stumble on some winter cress or early dandelions. I figured that, on two whole acres, I ought to be able to find one lousy edible plant (other than the ubiquitous wintergreen, which I have used with decidedly uninspiring results).
An hour later, I went back inside empty-handed. We have pricker bushes and scraggly pines in abundance but, as far as I could tell, the only edible plants on the entire property were in the refrigerator. I decided to expand my search to a local conservation area, and I donned running gear to do a lap or two around Eagle Pond, in Cotuit (I’m slow enough to forage while I run). Unfortunately, the terrain at Eagle Pond is remarkably similar to the terrain at our house, and I didn’t do any better. I should have gone for a run in Florida, or maybe Tahiti.
My only success came when I dropped off some clams for my friend Linda. She’d been scouting for me, and had found chives, sorrel, and Johnny jump-ups (an edible flower) growing in her yard, which gave me acute yard envy, but also something to put in my salad. She alerted me to the presence of more chives at a beach in Osterville, and I collected some of those, too. Linda is clearly better at this than I am.
Later in the day, though, I discovered that my hours in the woods hadn’t been completely fruitless. As I wrote up my foraging failures, two sesame-seed-sized ticks crawled out of my jacket. That meant that Kevin had to do an all-over tick check. And that meant that I had to take off my underwear. But it’s almost April, so I guess it’s OK.