After a few days of biting cold, yesterday beckoned us outside, tossing the temptation of adventure at our feet.
Ready to get her forage on, Fern begins attunement by becoming one with the tree well.
Since last week’s visit to The Randall Museum, Fern has wishfully asked every day if we are going back to see, “Rabbids and Chows and Sar Gass and that guy.”. That initial visit was grey and cold, so a warm golden day offered enough of a new experience to lure us back.
Every time I try to find the museum, I might as well be wandering through the mists of Avalon. Corona Heights is labrynthine with many dead ends and twisty turns twining around a steep hill in the middle of the city. I could google directions or look at a map, but I prefer to test my instinct and instead enjoy meandering around until I finally arrive.
Yesterday proved no different, and I was feeling quite lost. I am always aware of the window of good humor that can close quickly in toddler time, and the pressure was on to get us there before boredomsleepinesshunger set in. I rounded a corner to discover we were at the backside of the park, the decline of which offered a reward for weary travellers.
Opuntia Cacti with Prickly Pear Fruit
Lots of paddle cactus with almost ripe prickly pears. The cacti were on a nearly vertical slope, which may be why they were not picked over. I have heard about this fruit, but I had yet to try it. No time like the present!
The pears become deep red to purple when ripe. You know you’ve got a perfect pear when the flesh that is exposed on the detached end is bright red.
I pulled over, blocked about three driveways, turned on the emergency lights and took us across the street. Fern looked dubious when I said, “Do you think Mommy can climb that hill and pick one of those red balls?”. She busied herself with sour grass while my clambering caused a small avalanche.
An important piece of advice when picking and handling Prickly Pears. WEAR GLOVES.
I have grown cacti for years, and had my share of brickles in my britches, so I was confident I could pick one of these babies with minimal harm.
Another important piece of information about Prickly Pears. They have two types of spines…hard sturdy ones that are obvious and easy to avoid, and small hairlike ones that gleefully leap off the surface and embed themselves into every tender spot in your hand. WEAR GLOVES. Or a hazmat suit.
My brave little forager grabbed the fruit from my hand and then stood in bewilderment at the invisible “Ouchies” that used her hand like a baby pincushion. We sat down together and I used my tongue and teeth to search out every offender. I explained what it was she was feeling, offering firm hope that it might sting and itch for a minute, but it would get better fast. She took it all in stride, the way she always does. Over and over with her, I flash back to that moment just as she emerged from me in birth, eyes open wide, slightly consternated, boldly taking it all in. Cactus-like herself, this girl is not easily phased.
My hard won prize was the one on the top left.
The flesh inside the fruit is delicious. Slightly mucilaginous like a persimmon, and full of many tiny edible seeds. This article from Mother Earth News has recipes for Prickly Pear jelly, wine and pie. However, I have my tastes set on Prickly Pear Mojitos. And I don’t even have to risk bodily harm to make them, since my bioregional swap package from Kim contained a bottle of the necessary precious syrup. As always, foraged food is best enjoyed in simplicity. After scrubbing your pear under running water with a veggie brush, slice off both ends and then slice horizontally. Get your thumb in between the flesh and the skin and peel the outer layer off. Now eat it.
This looks quite horrifying up close. As you can see from the color, it was almost ripe. But, still delicious.
After our risky behavior, we found our way to the museum. We visited the bees and said hello to Mr. Great Horned who “hoo hoo hooted” at us. The glorious day beckoned us out to the deck, where we had a tiny picnic and counted our blessings for living in such an amazing place.
We rounded the mountain and then made our way back to the car. I recognized a voice behind us, and was tickled to discover it was Mama Jax. We haven’t seen each other since last year’s potato harvest, and so we were tumbling over our words in eager connection. I gave her the down-low on the mysterious decision making I’ve alluded to in my last two posts. Jax has a no bullshit east coast sensibility still intact even after years of Northern California living, and her perspective was refreshing and validating. (You know what we call spiritual bypassing in New York? STFU!). While we blah blah blahed, Fern got all Andy Goldsworthy on us.
By the time she was done, her artwork extended under that car in the background.
We have been so focused on our quest to find the farm of our future, that it has become increasingly easy to feel disgruntled about the meagerness of city life. And then this happened…
As part of her 40th birthday extravaganza, Missa (on the left) has been inundated with visits from bloggy sisters. I was fortunate enough to catch her on the tail end of Milla‘s visit, who I miss already. Lucky for me, Missa is in Santa Rosa and I look forward to seeing her soon. (Girls, I purposefully posted the more awkward photo. I think there might be better ones on Missa’s cam.)
Both Milla and Missa reflected back to me the beauty of this life in the city, and how bountiful my foraging expeditions really seem. I definitely can get caught up in fantasy of going back to what I remember about rural life, so it was good medicine to hear of Milla’s love and frustration of living in her forest dwelling. We spoke to the edginess of engaging with urban ecology, a conversation that echoed one I had with America recently as well. The vastness of wilderness also contains within it an indifference to humanity, and rubbing shoulders with hawks, foxes, prickly pears and nettles in the concrete landscape feels more intimate. Hello hawk that I see every day. We both live here. We are both slightly displaced. We are both surviving. And thriving.
Have a great weekend!