Voices from the river

Living off the land

A woman picks berries in the Colorado high country.
Pick one, eat one.

In the summer, I think I could live off the land — with a bit more education.

Wild raspberries and strawberries, wildflowers, wild trout, some wild onions, mushrooms and cattails would make a smorgasbord. The trout tend to come easily in the high-mountain streams I frequent, but too bad I’m a vegetarian as they would be the only filling menu item. I guess I have more learning to do.

I’ve been devouring my recent second-hand bookstore copy all about edible and medicinal plants of the western states. Salsify (by far the best wildflower name out there) is easy to identify and you can eat the flowers and the roots taste like oysters. Sweet clover, juniper berries, wild rose hips, prickly pear and the list goes on of yummy edibles the land graces us with, but I’m still known to get it wrong on occasion.   

Just the other day, a gentleman visited our property from the county weed control department to offer advice on how to deal with an invasion of nonnative spotted knapweed and toadflax on the flat benches above the creek and tamarisk on the edge of the creek. While walking around, he spotted some houndstongue, and knowing that I had read about it in my book, I offered “Hey, isn’t that edible?” He said, “Well, if cattle eat just two plants, they could die, so no.” I guess I have more learning to do.   

Sure is pretty in the high country.

For a quick weekend away, we hiked to a high mountain lake surrounded on two sides by 14,000-foot peaks and one thirteen-er. Under spectacular scenery, the cutthroats were willing participants and rising frequently under the intermittently stormy skies. After bringing a few fine-spotted specimens to hand (and subsequently releasing them), I knew we wouldn’t starve if forced to live off the land. Luckily, we brought plenty of food for the day hike, but it’s a good feeling to know I could procure food if needed. Wild strawberries back at camp provided the perfect dessert, though our tired legs made the close-to-ground picking a bit of a chore.   

Lots of fat bellied rainbows in those pools.

Next, we picked a stream that takes some work to access. Right off the bat, we found some ripe raspberries and stuffed our cheeks full for the hike in. The wild rainbows we caught looked like they hadn’t missed a meal. Their small mouths didn’t match their bulbous bellies, and the stonefly casings on the rocks gave us a clue as to why they had such girth. Other than the numerous stops for ripe red raspberries, I didn’t see many edible plants, but rainbow trout stuffed with wild onions along with raspberries for dessert sounded pretty good toward the end of our hike. 

Yummy, right?

Later this summer, I plan on taking both an edible plants and mushroom hunting class through our local community center. I can hardly wait to add more to my repertoire and increase my chances of living off the land.

Thank goodness I still have more learning to do.