When I first started reading, after the picture books but before Tolkein and Bradbury and Ellison, I was drawn to stories like The Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain. They were tales about people who basically fell off the map, who by accident or design no longer had access to civilization. To me, in great part, civilization meant grocery stores, because, hey, you can always find shelter, build a fire, weave a poncho out of leaves, design a method for extracting potable water from the air. That’s easy, right? But food? Come on, what are you gonna do if you can’t jet down to the local 7-Eleven or Krogers or Piggly Wiggly and grab a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jar of Peter Pan?
As it turns out, you make the whole world your larder. Man, but that grabbed by imagination; that a person could just walk out and pick breakfast, unearth lunch and chase down dinner was about the coolest thing I could think of. I used to hide bananas and bologna sandwiches (safely wrapped in plastic baggies) in our back yard. Then I’d set out in search of food, knowing that if I failed, I’d surely starve. Those were great days and, not surprisingly, given all the melodrama I invested in the whole process, that was some of the best food I ever ate. And now, well, I have the opportunity to do it for real.
So I do.
Right now, the raspberries are starting to come in. It’s early for them. I usually don’t start seriously picking until around the 4th of July. This year, however, they’ve been coming on since the beginning of June. You’ll probably hear me say this a lot this year, but it’s the weather: the mild winter, the rain we had earlier this spring and the hot and dry conditions we have now. Everything’s early. We had red-winged blackbirds on the property in March, blossoms on the blackberry brambles in late April, grasshoppers in the bottom land in mid-May and now, black raspberries.
Now I get to go and play castaway, claw my way through the wilderness until I’ve gathered enough sustenance to keep me alive for a few more hours. It’s hard and dangerous work, but food is life.
On the other hand, if the berries don’t pan out, there’s always that loaf of Wonder Bread and the jar of Peter Pan.