If there’s one message I want to send via this blog and my book, it’s this: Get outside.
On Day 1 we went to the beach. Most of the kids had never dug clams before. They found sand dollars and learned about invasive critters like the oyster drill. A few of them even sampled a raw oyster for the first time. Time passed quickly as they explored Puget Sound’s nearshore habitat, watching fly fishermen cast for searun cutthroat, munching on a sea bean or two, and noting a patch of Japanese knotweed that had gotten a foothold above the tideline.
After digging limits of Manila clams we steamed our catch on camp stoves, to unanimous approval. There was a palpable sense of achievement: we’re eating food we had gathered just moments earlier. It tasted fresh and satisfying.
Day 2 was spent in the Cascade foothills outside Seattle, where we hiked a few miles and identified dozens of edible plants along the way. We nibbled some and picked quantities of others for a Friday feast, including stinging nettles, fiddleheads, and miner’s lettuce.
The urban foraging component on Day 3 was perhaps the most surprising part of the week, as we found all kinds of delicacies in a public park just a few blocks away from school. The students picked enough dandelions to make several loaves of bread and a platterful of Dandy Burgers. But that was merely the beginning. Right in the city we found fiddleheads, wild wood sorrel, maple blossoms, and even a patch of shaggy mane mushrooms in prime condition, inspiring two of the students to compose “Ode to a Shaggy Mane,” the tragic tale of the mushroom’s biological imperative to deliquesce.
Also on Day 3 we had lunch at Nettletown to see how a local restaurant incorporates wild foods into its menu (verdict: delicious) and then broke into smaller groups back in the school kitchen to make Dandy Bread and Muffins at the end of the day.
Day 4 was a jaunt to the sunny side of the mountains to look for morel mushrooms. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? After I confirmed that a few of the cryptic caps were indeed poking out of the leaf litter, the students slowed down and started scanning the ground with intensity. Occasional hoots and hollers punctuated their discoveries. The excitement of the mushroom hunt was in the air. Our morel season has only just begun in the snowbound North Cascades but we found enough to saute up a panful with garlic and shallots and enjoy the distinctive earthy spring flavor of morels over sliced baguette.
For Day 5 the students gathered one last time to spend the day writing about their experiences before cooking a celebratory meal. I couldn’t be there for the final feast, but no matter; at that point they had confidence in their abilities to plan and execute a wild food menu of their own devising. Susanne, their teacher, told me later that “the kids really impressed themselves and the people around campus. It was a gorgeous sunny day so we set up a table out on the grass and had a picnic.”
What a perfect way to conclude a week in nature’s class room.