Sunday, April 17, 2005

Wild Berries

Lately I've been making an effort to pay more attention to the plant life around the bayou when I go on my Saturday morning runs. I make a special point of seeing how many useful plants I can identify. So I was both surprised and pleased a couple weeks ago to notice some berries growing from the top of a tree as I was going across a bridge that happened to be at prime berry-growing level. I was examining them (not quite ripe) when a man I'd seen a bit further back ran past me and identified them for me: mulberries.

This weekend I was pleased to see that more of them were ripe, and I found several other places where they were growing. I'm debating if I want to go back and pick some and use them in a recipe. They're the all-sweet/no tang type of mulberries (I did a taste test), making them not so good for recipes unless I pair them with something tart, like maybe cranberries.

Anyway, I was musing on these sorts of thoughts as I was running yesterday, and my thoughts drifted back to about fifteen years ago when I went on a yoga retreat in New Mexico and found some wild berries.

The retreat location was a private property at about 9,000 feet. It was accessible only by four-wheel drive and bordered by Indian lands, a National Forest and the Pecos Wilderness. Get lost and you can be lost for a good long while because there are no other people around for miles. One of the first things you notice is that the ground doesn't look right. Upon closer inspection you realize that there is no litter anywhere. You can walk for days without finding so much as an old gum wrapper. It's tragic that such a state is remarkable these days, but there you are.

We quickly became a close-knit group on this retreat, even though most of us had never met before. When you're this far from civilization with only twenty other people, you become friends quickly. So one afternoon I was pondering what to do with my free afternoon, when a guy named Jeff invited me to go for a walk. His girlfriend Chris was a violinist with an audition coming up after the retreat was over, so she needed to spend the afternoon practicing.

So Jeff and I headed off into the woods. Even at the time it seemed a bit mad because instead of keeping to the logging trails, Jeff struck out for parts unknown. Being young and stupid, I just tagged along, even though I knew better than to stray from known trails and not mark the way back. We had a fine time for awhile, finding cold streams, strange birds, weird mushrooms and bushes full of ripe raspberries-- a good thing, since we had no food or water with us. (Bizarre to even think about, since I don't even run the local trails without water today.)

Toward late afternoon, I began to get worried. I had no idea where we were and although Jeff put up a good front, I had the impression he wasn't exactly sure, himself. Nights are cold up on a mountain, even in August. We were in shorts and the sun would be setting soon. We had nothing useful with us at all, really-- no matches, no compass, no way to signal for help.

So there we were, tramping along through a field of white flowers, when suddenly he stopped. "You hear that?" he asked.

I listened too, but heard nothing that seemed out of the ordinary.

"Come on," he said. He changed our course slightly and struck out at a quick pace.

About a minute later, he stopped and listened again. This time I could hear it, too. "What is it?" I asked.

Jeff was excited now. "It's Beth," he said. "Come on."

Beth was an opera singer in our group, and like Jeff's girlfriend, had chosen to spend the afternoon preparing for an upcoming audition. We hurried along now, nearly running, Beth's well-trained voice sounding louder and louder in our ears. She must've been about a mile from where we first heard her because it took us about fifteen minutes to reach her. Sound carries far in the thin mountain air. Finally we broke out of a clearing and found ourselves in familiar territory. And there was Beth, our savior, standing on a rock overlooking the valley, belting out an aria with gusto, a curious chipmunk at her feet.

Saved by opera.

And helped along by a few wild berries.


Kenneth said...

What a great story!

Wil said...

Wow, just read this and decided that it was a great way to start the morning! You're a good writer!