Put Your Faith in the Two Inches of Humus

Sea & TimberComment
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
— Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Spring is a luscious time of year. It’s the time when wild irises gather together like girls coming home from school, all of their purple faces open to the sky and laughing with delight. Raptors are on every fence post and tree, a Sharp-Shinned Hawk lives in the park by my house in San Francisco and I can hear its chirping in the evening and early morning every day when I step outside. Fiddleheads unfurl out of Sword Ferns, making dramatic entrances into the world.


Spring is also the time when Poison Oak’s leaves are bright green, shining like freshly polished shoes with their deadly oils. Whitish flowers group together on the stems and as hard as I try, when I’m foraging I can’t avoid it. The Miwok would feed their children tiny pubescent poison oak leaves in order to inoculate them from the rash. They cooked with the leaves and made baskets from the flexible stems.


In order to avoid contracting the dreaded rash that penetrates your skin within ten minutes of exposure, I keep a small bottle of Dr. Bronners Tea Tree Soap in my car. After a hike or a day spent languidly relaxing in PO, I rub on the soap and rinse with any available water. Be sure to shower and immediately wash your clothes to prevent the incredibly gruesome blisters that can follow exposure, especially if you don’t know what your tolerance is. 


Elderflower is everywhere in the spring and always bordered by the dreaded rash-inducing plant. It’s my favorite part of spring foraging, along with the Chickweed and Miners lettuce snacks that lie in the more forested areas of Northern California. Every year for six years I’ve been making Elderflower Cordial, and I look forward to its butter-colored flowers popping open every April. While it’s tempting to gather Elderflower from the roadsides where it bends gracefully over cars, it’s best to avoid the invisible toxins from gasoline that are harbored in green areas next to passing traffic.


In the spring, remember to look up. Seeing the silhouettes of raptors and hearing their distinct and varied calls takes practice, but more importantly it takes listening. Find a sit spot in the outdoors, and visit it every day. The passing of spring will take on a new life, and it will be impossible to be in nature without scanning the trail for Polypore mushrooms and Bobcat scat. Soon every living creature at your sit spot will begin to know you and recognize you, until you become as much of a part of the place as the place itself.


Thanks Halley for sharing your FIELD to BODY experiences!

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