Ricing Camp

Autumn is picking up speed here in the Northwoods and rice season is coming to an end. The various camps are slowly returning from the local rice lakes back to our main camp at Waabanong, each bringing many stories.

Ricing was one of the most looked forward to activities here by my family–surpassed, perhaps, only by fishing. We set out enthusiastically a half moon ago in search of Hiles Mill Pond, a couple of suns east of our Woodbury Lake.

 

 

We were 16: Dakota, Ishi, Canto, Zander, Susan, Diindiis, Sara, Geo, Elka, Baldur, Andrea, Alexandros, Fridolin, Rob, Wolfgang, and Jeff. Brum helped guide us the 1st sun.

It took us four suns to find the west side of the lake. During that time, Jeff challenged a hornet’s nest and came out looking like the loser in a prize fight (eye swollen shut and hand swollen to twice its normal size). He, with head and arm swathed in rags, might have been part of the reason we were mistaken the next morning for a band of Guerilla Mexican Pot growers…or it might have been Andrea darting of the road into the bushes, hair-feathers and cape flying, not quite in time to be unseen by a passing vehicle. Whatever the reason, we were met by 2 cops that morning as we started breakfast, armed to the hilt with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests. “Oh, it’s just campers,” they said.

It took us three suns to find a campsite with reasonable access to the lake. This is a particularly tricky lake to access (lots of sink-to-your-hip-in-muck bog) and we had a lot of group processing to do.

The process, the guides often remind us, is what this is all about. Good thing, too, because after another sun preparing our site and one sun ricing, a hailstorm took out the remainder of the rice crop and our camp was finished…but the processing goes on without end. What I learned by this experience was:

  1. When a group polarizes into mommy/daddy (criticism/avoidance) energy, I personify both in equal measure.
  2. If you want to find water, look down a drainage. If you want to find Hiles Mill Pond, go with someone who has been there before.
  3. Rice worms taste nutty and yummy but too many raw can give some people a stomachache.
  4. Trying to hide from motorists who have already spotted you inspires suspicion.
  5. No matter where you go, there you are.
  6. If one is truly choosing love over fear then it is easy (but surprising) to ask for help from the very person one is furious with.

We were told that wild harvesting rice is done like this: two people per canoe, one standing and slowly poling the canoe though the rice beds. The other uses 2 cedar sticks to whack the rice into the boat. The collected rice is then hauled across the bog and up to a clearing where it is laid out to dry.

I hear ricing is lots of fun. Some day, I hope to try it.

–Dakota

Canto and Diindiis had an adventure with the guardians picking up the canoes on the first sun at Hiles Mill Pond. The following words are from Canto:

We canoed to the boat landing and picked up the boats. We brought a little food but by then it was getting dark so we couldn’t make it all the way back to camp. Instead, we canoed to a penninsula and camped there. We had no clothes on (they had been playing in the muck when this adventure began). We had a fire to keep warm. We had to cut the food with a tomahawk because we had no knife with us. The next morning we ate frogs, clams, and a few nuts for breakfast. Then we brought the canoes back to camp.

Hiles Millpond Ricing Camp didn’t get to do much ricing, but our Guardian Scott Lake Camp and Thoroughfare Camps did get to gather bags of it. Here are a few photos from their time out on the ricing lakes.


The Hoop of Life

Drifting on the subtly rippled surface of the lake, I toss out a slug on the end of my line and take out my notebook to write.

I have just returned from eating an irresponsible quantity of raspberries.

Again.

I thought I had found a reliable metric: When they stop tasting good, stop eating them. My body sends me a gradual but clear signal– Stop, I’m sated. But some primordial urge keeps me plucking berries so ripe they look bruised, trembling pendulously from their drooping vines.

I hear Fridolin and Andrea calling to each other, trying to find their canoes on the peninsula. Fridolin sings a shamanic chant from his heart, echoing through the bog and across the water.

I haven’t intended this as a serious fishing trip. I’m borrowing someone’s slugs and it’s more a way to multitask. But bass are breaching all around me, and I spy a fat worm in the slug pile.

I’m not considered a squeamish person. I’ve dealt with any number of open wounds on humans, dogs, and horses, and I started giving my mom injections of multiple sclerosis medication when I was nine. I still squirm in empathy with the half worm I’ve cut with my thumbnail as I push the hook through his body, imagining an echo of a barbed iron spike being driven through my ribcage and belly.

No sooner do I toss him overboard into a bed of rushes off the tip of the peninsula than the chip of red pine bark I’ve wound the line around bobs under, and I haul in a lovely medium-sized bass. She flops for her life as I carefully hold the rest of my line out of the way to keep it from getting tangled. Wrapping my hand around her supple, armored body behind the gills, I silently thank her for her life, and acknowledge the pain of the death blow I’m about to deliver.

I’m always sad when I kill. I don’t try to stop the sadness. I embrace it, accept it. It feels right. I am ending a life in one manifestation so that it can continue in another– the life of my people, literally, as the bass’ flesh becomes our flesh; psycho-emotionally, as we honor our relationship with the bass by celebrating their wonder and hunting them respectfully with regard to their needs as a species; and spiritually, as the spirit of Bass becomes the spirit of Human. Human blood becomes mosquito’s flesh becomes dragonfly becomes bass.

The Hoop of Life, the food chain, it’s all the same thing.

All My Relations–Last Post From Hazelnut Camp

Stuffed full of two dozen little crispy fish and the good fellowship of my campmates, I slowly pick through the brief stretch of woods between the trail and the tiny lake we discovered near camp. Leaving the needle carpeted pine highland behind, I step into a calf-deep sea of soft, bright green grass broken only by our meandering trail to the water. The fragrance of mint drifts up around me as I walk through their soft leaves and tiny purple flowers, the warm firelight of the setting sun saying farewell to me. Only an elbow of the lake is visible here, so that this bowl of water and grass and mint seems embraced by the pine highlands.

I am so filled with gratitude that I start to choke up. I could easily hold it in, but I release my feeling into the world and let myself sob.

So many have cared for me in these nine suns. Every hazelnut bush who gave me her children, every sunfish who gave himself to the hook, the sickeningly abundant blackberries, the grasshoppers and frogs and ants, the oxeye and evening primrose flowers, the strawberry and dandelion and basswood leaves, my campmates. So many beings who have given me their lives, their children, their guidance.

“Thank you,” I whisper under my breath, wet tracks dripping down my face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Suddenly I am overtaken with the sense that every living thing in the embrace of the lake –the pines, the water, the leeches, the birds, the frogs, the grass, the breeze, the clouds, the sky, the mosquitoes, the fallen logs– is welcoming me back. As if I’ve been prodigal my entire life, or for the past twenty generations, but my place has been saved for me and all I have to do is step back into it.

It’s as if I’ve been here for these four moons, but I wasn’t here until I gave myself to this direct relationship with the beings who sustain me. There is no farmer between us, no store, no exchange of imaginary numbers or meticulously designed paper, not even the food drop from the support center. I give to them of my body and my spirit, and they give to me of theirs.

Nine suns of doubt, fullness, revelation, hunger, excitement, weakness, satiation, bliss, discomfort. Standing there in the soft, bright green grass under a burning sky, I cry like my heart is broken, and maybe it is, just broken open.

Trust

The sound-sensation of ripping hair as I pull a few strands from my scalp and let them drift from my fingers to the forest floor. They are my offering, a token gift from my body in preemptive gratitude for what I am about to receive; a physical manifestation of a sacred pause for me to consider the lives I will take or alter to sustain myself.

I am so hungry, I tell the world. Please, I need food.

Feast

After eight suns eating nothing but what we forage the hazelnut rush has dried up, and I just made a five mile round trip I didn’t really have in me to attend the Naming celebration of two of my campmates. My energy is low, my balance unsteady. I leave my shoes at a fork in the leaf-matted trail so I don’t have to hunt to find them, roll up my pant legs and cut through the woods to the bog creeping out over the lake.

High-stepping and barefoot, my blackberry scarred shins are sensitive to the thicket of labrador tea. I weave around a clump of stunted tamaracks, tipped with their little scruffy tufts like the mind of Dr. Seuss brought to life. Finally soft, deep sphagnum moss, its spring green burnt to Christmas red by constant exposure to the sun. The sky stretches out above me, mesmerizingly complex, threatening either sunshine or thundershowers as I reach the edge of the lake and take out my fishing pole.

The floating bog undulates beneath me as I reach into my breast pocket for the worms Fridolin gave me. A stream of bubbles burbles to the surface as the bog sinks under my weight, leaving me ankle deep in tannic water.

Opening the bandana, I stare, and want to cry, or sit down and never get up. There’s nothing there but a single shred of dried worm, veritable worm jerky. I don’t even know if I have the energy to walk the twenty-five canoe lengths to where Fridolin stashes his fishing gear for more bait.

Scouring the bandana I find one more piece of worm jerky that I can break in two.

All right, I tell myself, more than a little overwhelmed. Let’s see what happens.

I fenagle the worm jerky onto the hook and toss the line over the edge of the sinking bog, watching the bright spot of the worm fade into the dark water.

Instantly a jerky nibble, a bait thief on a lightning strike, but no fish. I toss the hook back in again.

Another tug and I set the hook and out of the water in a furious silvery spiral erupts a sunfish, thrashing for life at the end of my line. Hurriedly I swing her over the bog before she fights free, reaching out to gently cup her against my thigh, careful of her flaring dorsal spines. Killing her with a few sharp raps from the hilt of my knife, I stow her under some moss out of the sun, untangle my line from a fluffy seed stalk, and toss the worm back in.

Tug.

Out spirals another sunfish, dappled with glorious orange spots, as big as my whole hand, the biggest I’ve ever caught.

Again and again pumpkinseeds and bluegills give themselves to the hook, all on three reconstituted worm pieces, until ten fish lie at my feet.

Abundance

I dream Amazon.com has given me a $10,000 gift card as part of a credit card promotion. I don’t believe it. It has to be fake. When I hit refresh on my internet browser it won’t be there.

But it is.

I let myself get excited, thinking about all the things I can buy. With my lifestyle I can live ove this for Turns. I keep thinking that it’s going to be taken away, that it’s a mistake, but it keeps being proven again and again that it’s real.

At the end of my dream I’m in a cafeteria line and there’s a whole rack of gourmet food that is only 25 cents a serving because it’s a couple of suns old, and I can afford as much as I want. But there are so many choices and I can only fit so much in my belly, and I don’t know what to choose.

When I wake, a bleak grief overwhelms me. It was just a dream. I don’t really have a $10,000 gift card. All my excitement and sense of security weren’t real. The symbolism is obvious, my dreamself’s metaphor for all the abundance around me. But my feeling self doesn’t care. The abundance is not for me.

The abundance is not for me.

~~~

We’ve been invited to the Naming Feast of two of our campmates back at Wabanong, and I make the hike toward celebration amid the cheery company of the other Nutters heavy hearted. I gather oxeye daisy, basswood, strawberry, dandelion, plaintain, raspberry, and red clover blossoms for a salad on the way. I want to be present for my campmates in their joy, but as I touch the pain inside me all I can feel is like crying. I find myself irritated by the people around me, judging their small idiosyncrasies and greater patterns.

After the feast Rab and Scott have decided to stay in Wabanong. They’ve learned what they need to learn at Hazelnut Camp. Sewing up my shoe by firelight for my hike back in the overcast dusk, I know that my pain and discomfort mean I am dancing on my edges, on the cusp of a threshold to I know not where.

And I just know– I have to go back.

Hazelnut Camp — Being As a Question

Following is a story from Rose. For the next three suns, we will be running a series of her posts from Hazelnut Camp and then back at Wabanong.

“When I was walking through here I saw so many hazelnuts it just boggled my mind.” Dakota guides us down a National Forest road west of our new camp, a manic gleam in her merry eyes.

Peering through the hazelnut bushes lining either side of the two track road, eyes straining, I do not feel encouraged. I’ve been to an abundant hazelnut area about an hour and a half away via a box on wheels that feeds on noxious fumes, and what I’m seeing doesn’t even remotely compare. My search image is not refined yet, and I can only pick out a handful of fuzzy green bells. I’ve heard from people who have lived here for years that we don’t have a lot of hazelnuts and it’s almost impossible to wrestle them from the squirrels.

I didn’t exactly believe Dakota at first when she returned from her walkabout and enthusiastically proposed a spontaneous Hazelnut Camp to take advantage of the mountains of wild foods she was finding. We would form a separate camp about three miles away from Wabanong and live entirely off the land, no food drop from the support center, basically for as long as we could stand it.

“I realized I could drop off the face of the earth, or I could take half the clan with me,” she laughed. “We’re going to go out for a quarter moon! Maybe even half a moon!”

Uh-huh, I thought.

On my morning scouting the area with Rab, high on an irresponsible volume of blackberries, I allowed myself to get excited. If there were enough nuts we could live off them and send them back to Wabanong to cure and put up for the White Season. But I’ve lived with people who have gone out on eight sun trips into these woods with no food, people with a decade of experience on us, and listened to their stories of how hard it was. But here I am, dedicated to trying.

“We’re gonna be out here half a moon,” Rab says with his typical mellow confidence and a small nod, all square framed glasses and surfer hair.

Three suns, I think, maybe four, and we might be fasting the last two, and we’ll be back at Wabanong.

In the westering light I heft my pillowcase and start plucking. The soft peach fuzz is deceptive, and my hands rapidly fill with tiny spines.

“I’m leaving the little ones,” I say to Dakota as she cruises by me in green army wool and graying curls, enviably efficient, her search image already fine-tuned.

“I’m taking them all,” she tells me gleefully.

Thinking of the squirrels and future generations of hazelnuts, I’m torn: There’s not a lot here, and we’re going to need everything that we can get. When gathering plants we generally have a Rule of Three– take one third of what’s there and the plant or area will be able to recover and reproduce. Should I only take one in three hazelnuts when there are so few here?
The question nags at me as I pick everything I find, my hands rapidly desensitized to the needles.

Finally, I ask Hazelnut, What should I do? How much can I take?
And she says to me, Take it all. You’re the only ones doing this in this time and this place, going to this edge to relearn how to live with us. Take what you need.

~~~

“There is somuch food here,” Rab enthuses, eying our dinner feast spread around the hearth through his square frames. A pile of beaked hazelnuts, a pyramid of fish, skewers of grasshoppers, bandanas full of greens, a handful of frogs. Culinary quality and variety we lack not.

“I know!” Chris says, stripping a toasted grasshopper off the skewer, still looking after four moons in the woods like he stepped out of a city gym in a sleeveless hoodie. “It’s amazing.”

My estimation of our calories is different, but I don’t say anything. I know we’re not getting as much food as we would on the food drop, but many people don’t feel hungry. They’re being filled by something other than food, filled with the empowerment of independence, of being able to do something about being hungry instead of just waiting for the food drop to magically arrive at the trailhead.

“I was thinking, ‘The Mother provides,'” I tell them, “but can we keep up?” I crack another hazelnut, hull spraying lemony juice, and pick out the white meat to add to my pile. I’m pretty sure hazelnuts are our best source of bulk fat right now, the one thing our diet is really lacking, and I’m hitting them hard. All sun every sun we gather food, and the rest of the time we crack hazelnuts and sleep.

Claire nibbles on a leaf across the hearth, ever quiet, notebook out and ready on her knee to record her many thoughts.

“More berries,” Fridolin informs the after-dinner-glow, attempting to finger comb through the snarls in his shoulder length hair, a cherry stuck in his beard.

“Don’t talk to me about berries,” I moan. Even the thought makes me feel mildly ill, considering I ate a ball of them about the size of my head for breakfast.

“There can never be too many berries,” Rab informs me, popping to his feet and scrubbing hazelnut stickers out of his hands on the front of his pants.

“Look at this one!” I hold out a hulled hazelnut almost as big as the first digit of my forefinger. I’ve always heard that beaked hazelnuts are smaller than the wild American Hazelnuts I’ve gathered before, but these nuts rival or surpass any American Hazelnut I’ve eaten.

“Whoaaa,” Rab says.

“And look at this,” I continue, holding up what appears to be a small nut, still tightly encased in spiny hull. “Looks small in the hull, inside, totally average nut. The big hulls are all full of air space.”

It’s sun five of Hazelnut Camp, and I wasn’t even convinced we would make it to sun four. My mind opening up to the ever expanding universe of possibility, I realize that I haven’t been as a question. I always heard there weren’t a lot of hazelnuts, that they were small, so I didn’t believe they could be worth gathering. The people I know with Turns of experience were severely challenged by eight sun trips living off the land, so I didn’t believe we could do it. But I didn’t open myself to the potential of seasonal variation, a low squirrel population, or that my more experienced clanmates were giving themselves other challenges, like going into the wild without fishing hooks and line, or going in the White Season, or going in the Hunger Moons.

We have hooks and line, and thanks to Dakota’s scouting and Rab’s initiative to go the very next morning after Hazelnut Camp was proposed, we have had the incredible opportunity to go as incompetent infants into the wild and be consistently fed. Closed to possibility, sure I had the answers, I could never have been a catalyst for this experience. What Dakota saw as abundance I compared to my previous experience and wouldn’t have bothered with. But for five suns the hazelnuts have fed nine people.

“Berries?” Fridolin proposes, dusting off the thick wool coat he wears even on mild suns.

Chris: “Fer sure, man!”

Rab: “Ye-ah!”

Me: “Ughhhh…”