Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Foraging in San Jose


I’ve spent the better part of the winter in California, arriving at the first of the year in a rare atmospheric river producing gale winds, crashing surf, mudslides, and wide-spread flooding. Now we are enduring our eleventh such event, predicted to grow worse over the first half of the week.

Because my arrival coincided with the arrival of these unprecedented storms, I sometimes feel like Typhoid Mary. It’s probably a good thing I am leaving soon for NH before they decide to deport me. Either that or arrest me for larcenous behavior because I’ve exhibited some peculiar habits while here.

The cozy, suburban section of San Jose where I am staying with Russet consists of closely packed ranch houses, most having yards separated from the sidewalk by a high fence. Various fruit trees extend over the barrier like fat stomachs bulge over too-tight pants.

I found myself so fatally attracted to the fruit on these trees – juicy oranges, tart lemons, and an occasional giant grapefruit – that I regularly grab one or two as I walk past. I guess that’s stealing, but if I didn’t take them, they would fall to the ground and rot beside their cousins who had ripened earlier.

I have spent considerable time pondering the cause of my deviant behavior. Perhaps, I thought, my obsession was similar to how a crow is attracted to shiny objects and will sometime take one back to her nest. That reminds me: I’ve also swiped an occasional shiny red rose blossom that dared to stray into the public domain.

Finally, it dawned on me what I was really doing:  I was foraging, exhibiting an ingrained habit similar to the instinct that causes dogs to chase squirrels. I was born into it.

My mother grew up on a farm growing, harvesting, and putting up food for winter while foraging for fruits, nuts, cranberries, elderberries, whatever was there for the picking. Meanwhile, my father’s first love was hunting and fishing. 

We grew extensive gardens and foraged for what we couldn’t grow, hunt, or hook on a line. After dinner, we would often take a drive to see what wildlife we could find and look for delicacies in the abandoned gardens of summer people. 

It could be dangerous work. When I was about six, I remember stepping on a giant, black snake close to six feet long while rummaging for asparagus in an overgrown field by an abandoned house. The snake didn’t retreat but coiled up, hissing and making menacing striking motions, sending me fleeing back to the car.

Taking the time to remember my past was the key to making sense of my recent behavior.

Of course, it was challenging to be in a place where I could not forage as I've always done – not just me, but that's how our species thrived for most of our history. California has been nice, despite the weather, but I miss my roots. I can't wait to return to Northwood to plant peas, dig dandelions, and catch my first trout of 2023.


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