Essays from
Giving Ground


Sometimes when the days are so short in January, I go and stand in front of the pantry shelves of canned jams, pickles, juices, and my medicinal tinctures.

Even on a grey day, light shines from them in a magickal way, jewel colors and forms reminding me of late, hot summer.

In Biblical times, farmers left the part of their crops that grew along the roadside edges and field boundaries, and gleaners were allowed to come and harvest what they needed. Today such a practice would be good for erosion control and wildlife habitat, but "financially unsound" (in the short term!)

Still the forest tracks and trails give up wild treasure to patient gleaners. Jerusalem artichokes grow here for the digging. Blueberries and raspberries, ripe with juice, wait in the sun. Joe Pyeweed and red clover blossoms will look delicate in a glass vase, and their medicines, the blossoms, and, later in the fall, the Joe Pyeweed roots, make honorable remedies. Cattails and foxtail grass and tall grains look fine in a birchbark cornucopia; marsh marigold leaves in early spring, harvested, boiled in three waters, and eaten with butter and pepper...wild rose petals for jam and rosehips for rosehip butter and cordial....

My mother had a gleaning companion for 40 years, and now I've had one for the same amount of time! Gleaners find each other, and stick together like burdock burrs. They call each other up and say, "The pick-your-own strawberries are ready at the farm. Shall we sign up for the eight o'clock start tomorrow morning?" And I agree to begin checking the wild blueberry site in about three weeks, and start rinsing out my berry pails.

True foragers take on the responsibility of leaving roadsides and by-ways in better condition than they found them, and they don't trespass, or disturb rare plant species, or spread plant diseases by transporting susceptible varieties. But my mother talked her way through Canadian customs here and back into New York State at Buffalo with 15 tiny tamarack seedlings she'd dug here on our land. These she pruned and gentled into magnificent 30 foot trees in naturalized groupings around her pond.

As gleaning partners, Jainie and I exchange jars of pickles, handfuls of sugar peas, packets of flower seeds, bulbs wrapped in newspaper, roots, seed catalog addresses and order forms. Homemade spaghetti sauce from the last of her garden tomatoes, barter for a Christmas tree and wreathe materials from our land here. A panful of rhubarb pudding and the recipe, traded for a mason jar of maple syrup.

Our children trailed behind us for years, chins and fingernails colored with berry juice, pails full of pickings. Our wish for them has always been, whether they ever went to college or not, traveled to Europe or not, got married or not, that they, too, would find gleaning companions.

Copyright 2012 by Pam Thompson

Return to Giving Ground Essays


Phone: 218.848.2302
Toll Free: 888.276.1336



Giving Ground
Superior National Forest
1223 Little Creek Road
Brimson, MN 55602