Manataka® American Indian Council
Grandmother Maka Nupa L. Cota Speaks
Old Ways of Gathering
By Maka Nupa L Cota
Looking out the window I see the snow melting so slowly. The sky is gray and filled with the promise of snow and rain. The North winds hold the land in its strong hand. It still has not given up the ghost of the long silent nights of winter. My own heart waits for the release of the land and the streams from ice and snow.
The little frogs called peepers are out singing each night and I know that the small fish called smelts are making their run in the streams. At one time we use to net these very small fish and bring home buckets of them to eat fried crisp and hot. That along with the dandelion greens and fiddle heads was the first signs of spring.
Long time ago it seems now, that my old body was able to walk down the river banks and enjoy this yearly pilgrimage of honoring spring. We offered tobacco to the water and lit our sage and sweet grass to give thanks for the abundance. The ocean and the rivers that flow are the blood lines of the Mother Earth and are to be honored as such.
We would fish late into the night waiting for the smelt to start the migration out to sea. They came like a black river of small flashing fish. Sometimes they were so thick that they jumped over the stream banks landing on the Earth.
One dip of the long handled net filled your quota for the night. The rest was the tedious cleaning and then the joy of cooking and eating these wonderful tasting little fish.
In the past when I was working and could not go netting the fish; I would often wake up to a sink full of them awaiting the knife and a few hours of my time.
If you know the seasons and the land you can find plenty of good and nourishing food to eat here in Maine.
Soon the land will come alive with bushes that yield the sweet blue berries. Muck ado the small potato like nut that grows along the streams and river banks will peep out. Much like a potato in taste but very small so you must look long and hard to gather them.
Wild asparagus, or cat-o-nine tails, some call them river cat tails, grow thick in the low ponds. If picked early and you use only the bottom of the stems taste just like asparagus. We also gathered the root that resembles a iris root. Cooked like potatoes or dried and pounded into flour they are good for soups and bread. So much that I can remember gathering and making wonderful meals of when I was much younger.
The wild strawberries small and sweet will be along in June. My girls gathered them down by the river and we made batches of jam that was stored for the winter.
In time the black berry patches and wild black raspberries will be in bloom. Elder berries and high bush cranberries grow along with the high bush blue berries in the bogs.
Milk weed pods cooked with butter when young and tender are the same taste as green beans.
We had our favorite place to go and forage for these things. There are still old farms in Maine you can find abandon apple orchards and stands of rhubarb for the taking.
Each year I made the long climb up a hill in Sweden Maine to gather the Siberian Crab Apples.
The foundation of the old farm house still stands today. Wild grapes vine in and out of the stone wall and up the trees that have taken back the land.
I would spread a large tarp under the tree and shake the branches to bring down the little hard red apples.
Dragging the tarp full of apples back down the hill we took them home to make into pickled and spiced crab apples. There was always a few batches of Crab Apple jelly and butter for the long cold winter.
I think there is nothing more rewarding then to take down a jar of the harvest of the seasons on a cold winter night, and enjoy them on a hot biscuit.
Blessings of spring and the return of life to Mother Earth.
Love Maka Nupa
Copyright (C) 2011 by Maka Nupa L Cota All publication rights reserved.
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