As my interest in foraging grew, I began to explore new territory. My workplace and backyard were well known to me, but there were other locations nearby that looked equally promising. The current bushes by the river were loaded as were the juniper trees. And then, there was the canal a half-mile from my home where every season, the cattails grew tall and thick.
It was this canal which drew my attention early this spring and, just after the snow had melted, I wandered down for a scouting mission. This would be a precursor to later foraging adventures and was designed to give me the “lay of the land”. I was looking for several things as I walked (and advise that you do as well, if foraging is in your future):
1. Was the soil near the bank secure? As the season pressed on, the canal would fill with water and I wanted to be certain that I knew the best way to and from the cattails without risking getting soaked or, worse yet, drowned.
2. Were there obstacles in the path that might be hidden once the brush had grown up? Among these were blocks of crumbled cement, bent rebar, collapsed barbed wire, and a proliferation of ground squirrel holes.
3. Were there any particular dangers posed by the wildlife? There weren’t any tracks to indicate that larger wildlife took an interest in the area (though I knew this might change as the year wore on). There were ducks, ground squirrels, and a feral cat living in a hold across the ditch, but the area seemed reasonably free of anything territorial enough or large enough to take me on. (Though I made a note to avoid both the squirrels and the cat during future ventures.)
4. Were there any human dangers? With gangs on the rise in my local area, I admit that I was also on the lookout for tags indicating that some unscrupulous characters had claimed the area for their own. I also kept an eye open for less hazardous signs of human activity including “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” indicators.
5. Were there any chemical threats? There was one final issue of importance and this one couldn’t be settled in the course of a single mission: was anyone spraying the foraging area for weeds or insects? The very presence of the cattails seemed to indicate that at minimum, no herbicides targeting monocots were being applied, but this didn’t mean that the area and the food grown in it was entirely safe. I’d have to keep my eyes open throughout the season to ensure that the health of my foraging area did not become a threat to the health of my family.
The scouting mission complete, I was ready to move on with my plan. There would be cattail on the menu this summer… though I felt it wise not to mention its addition to my family until after they’d partaken of the meal.