Spring weather was on a gradual but definite warming trend – though not on the Friday that our Primitive Pursuits wilderness skills training group (aka Barred Owls) met down at the dog park parking lot on Cayuga Inlet. We spent the day in the willows and wetlands on Cayuga Lake’s southern shore, in the teeth of a stiff wind funneling crisp cold air straight down Cayuga Lake from Canada.
After digging up burdock root (to eat!) and being blindfolded to find out how hard it is to walk a straight line unsighted, and playing deer-coyote in the dry grass from last year, we finally got under shelter in the willows that I have looked at so often when driving the lakeshore road. It’s not completely a natural setting in those woods – I think there’s an old dump of concrete and asphalt debris from the airport runways that were once part of Ithaca’s airport. But the trees and grasses and coyotes (big dens!) are softening and naturalizing the area. Beyond this somewhat uncomfortable zone, a beautiful small creek comes down via waterfalls out of the steep wooded slopes that drop to the lake’s western shore.
And there we all sat, on a low shore of rocks, surrounded by the creek’s gentle flowing waters, under big trees that were beginning to leaf out. Trucks zoomed by on the lakeshore road in the woods a few hundred feet away, but our group felt private and at peace.
We took notes on Jed and Tim’s discussion of the daily, seasonal and directional values that underlie Primitive Pursuits programs, and THEN…. it was time to start mashing up the garlic mustard we had been instructed to gather under the willows.
This early spring weed is regarded as a major nuisance plant. People whine and moan about it everywhere you go, and have big events to pull it up and discard it. Wait a minute, because garlic mustard sure makes a bitchen dip and pesto. We had all grabbed up handfuls of the fresh green upper part of the plants, and set to work pounding it up on flat creek stones with round stones into a garlicky green mash. Leader Jed just happened to have a small jar of olive oil in his pack, and a very natural bowl in one of his pockets, and Tim dredged two packets of crispy gluten free crackers out of that big white pail he had been hauling around all day.
It was all swirled together with a nice clean stick – and then we fell upon it, eating mouthfuls of the fresh green garlicky spring essence out there in the middle of that pretty creek. This was also a lesson by example on how to construct a daily program for kids and adults – following up active games and learning activities with quieter teaching and reflection, and having something to eat that embodies and exemplifies what has gone on during the day.
At a Primitive Pursuits spring camp session for kids, at day’s end I watched thirty children wolfing down this rough and ready treat and other woodland delicacies, surely something they would not be caught dead doing at home!
Our adult training group mopped up every gooey green morsel, drank water, chattered a bit more and then began to thread our way back through the woods and fields to our cars, replete with good food on a wonderful day.