Monday, April 12, 2010

Tom Finds Good in The Bad

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

Last year’s continual rain and cold caused massive crop failure throughout Maine. But they say that every dark cloud (and it seems that those were the only kind we saw last summer) has a silver lining. Accordingly, I can name two benefits that are directly attributable to the “summer that wasn’t.”

First, high water meant that brooks and streams never fell to their usual, low, summertime levels. This translated into more successful spawning, or “recruitment,” as the biologists say, for brook trout. Also, predators had a hard job to catch trout from the unusually-high water. So the native, brook trout population in rivers, brooks and streams has boomed, a very good thing.

Next, one, particular wild, edible plant has managed to pop up in areas where it never before had even the slightest chance of success. Curled dock, Rumex crispus, has appeared on a normally, dry section of my lawn. The leaves of this plant make a delectable potherb, or cooked, green vegetable.

Here’s what happened. Dock, a relative of our cultivated, buckwheat, sets thousands of seeds each summer. These fall to the ground near the plant and also, are spread by the wind to places quite far removed from the parent. In the case of my lawn, dock, growing in a low, wet area along the wood’s edge, sets seed. These are dispersed around my property, to dry out and die. But not last year. Even the most obdurate, hard-pan soil was wet and soft, the perfect host for dock seeds. And now, my lawn has young, dock sprouting up all over, a perfectly agreeable situation.

So last night, I had my first meal of the year of dock leaves. These were only the tenderest, young leaves, prime fare. They tasted something like spinach, but considerably milder. Along with the dock, I had two, brook trout, fresh from a nearby river. My cup truly runs over. I’m so happy to be alive and well in the State of Maine in glorious springtime.

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