Saturday, June 14, 2008

Call Waiting of the Wild

Last week's Wild Edibles class culminated today, with a mid-morning, 3-hour nature walk along Buffalo Bayou.

And first off, can we discuss how freakin' dreamy I looked in my hiking outfit? Low-cut boots, cargo shorts, backwards baseball cap, long-sleeved plaid shirt tied just so around my waist: I was a vision. If I'd seen me in a bar, I would've been too nervous to talk to myself.

But anyway, back to nature. Buffalo Bayou runs through one of Houston's wealthiest neighborhoods, so we parked there and ate wild grapes out of rich people's yards, which is the kind of subversive fun I just never get enough of. After vandalizing some high-end landscaping, we hiked into the bayou proper, where our grizzled instructor went right into fine form.

"This is white sage," he said, picking a leaf and munching merrily away. "It's rich in nutrients and can sooth an upset stomach."

We all picked leaves and chewed along with him.

"And this," he said, pointing to the identical shrub growing next to it, "is Bangkok Devil Weed. The cyanide content will kill you in, oh, I don't know, five or six seconds. But the sap will just blind you for life."

We stopped chewing. He launched into a detailed explanation of the best defensive stance to take if you're alone in the woods and find yourself attacked by homeless people.

Good to know.

Overall, the class was a light but enlightening slap in the face, as if the Gods had set their clue-by-fours to "stun" instead of "vaporize." As much as we within Paganism go on about how close to Nature we imagine ourselves to be, it's a rude awakening to realize how little we actually know about it. This berry is nutritous; that berry is toxic. This fungus cures cancer; that fungus causes heart failure. Venerate all you want, but if you end up lost in a forest, Nature isn't going to jump in and save you--he's going to leave it up to you to make the right decisions in order to live.

Quite humbling, that. And more personal responsibility than most of us (self included) are used to handling on a daily basis.

The instructor also runs a series of weekend survival seminars, where a small group of adventurers tramp off into the woods with a bare minimum of supplies and make do for two days. Out of a vague yet growing sense of necessity, I plan on taking the course at least once. But I'm going to wait until the early Fall or late Spring, these being the most temperate seasons in Texas, when the land is bountiful and anything that could feasibly eat me won't be facing a shortage of its regular food supply.

I suspect that after such an experience, I won't look anywhere near as cute in my hiking outfit. But if I make it back to civilization with a clearer perception of my place in the world and how to take care of myself in any situation, then it will be worth it.

Unless I scuff up the new boots. In which case I will become the personification of vengeance.


Anne Johnson said...

Worst part of it is, you can learn what to eat and what not to eat in your neck of the woods, then be lost in another woods 1000 miles away and have to start all over again.

Evn said...

With fuel costs what they are, I plan to only get lost in nearby woods.