Cath and I looked at the ground in surprise.
We had visited this rocky hilltop many times. It was here, some eight years earlier, that I had asked her to marry me.
We had often seen these low bushes clinging to the meager soil. We had never seen them fruiting.
The patch of green leaves at our feet was speckled with clusters of dusty blue. We picked a few ripe berries and savored their sweetness, then picked a few more, dropping them into a plastic grocery bag I happened to have in my fanny pack.
Soon we realized that the entire southern side of the hilltop was thick with blueberries. Thrilled by the unexpected bounty, we loaded the grocery bag with nearly two quarts, hardly making a dent.
But no measure of volume can gauge what we gathered that morning.
From farming done by others, we get the bulk of our calories and nutrition: fruits, vegetables, grains, chickens, and more. From our own gardening, we get a smaller portion of our food—greens, peas, beans, carrots, squash, and the like—plus an invaluable sense of involvement and connection.
From wild food, we get something else.
Whether unsought and unforeseen like that bagful of blueberries, or hunted and hoped for like the chanterelles I seek in the summer woods or the deer who steps out from behind a tree twenty yards from where I crouch in autumn, wild food is not something grown or owned, bought or sold.
It is something given. Something that feeds soul as much as body. A reminder of our oldest, humblest way of eating.
Unlike the hunted animal, remarks Bob Kimber in Living Wild and Domestic, “The animal raised and slaughtered is not a gift. We have earned that food in a different way, and when we eat that animal, we are not accepting a gift as much as we are exercising our property rights.”
To blueberry bush or fallen deer, I am not master, standing over that which is rightfully mine, but supplicant, on my knees, hand outstretched.
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli