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Monday, February 20, 2012

Hunting for So-called 'Gatherers'

You cannot be a couch potato and get cous potatos

I think maybe the wild celery is already peeking through snow along the middle Columbia, and the other day I saw nettles delicately shouldering their way up through San Juan forest litter the other day, so the season for foraging has begun. Shoots and roots, then greens and seeds, and finally berries...Washington offers an abundance.

Years ago, as an anthropology student, I learned about the hunter-gatherers, and was told that the peoples of the Pacific Northwest were unusual in having developed Chiefdoms and Stratified Societies based on Hunting and Gathering alone, that their weirdly rich environment enabled Social Complexity without resorting to Agriculture. Textbooks may not have capitalized all of these terms, but you better believe that the Discipline of Anthropology did.

Reality always outstrips Theory where Complexity is concerned, and so it is with the Gatherers. I knew this from Hawai`i days, when I realized that beyond the Agricultural Fields recognized by explorers and anthropologists were surrounded by concentric ripples of Informal Horticulture crucial to long-term Survival...Hedges in every sense of the word. And so it is that the Gatherers of the Northwest, far from being passive beneficiaries of kind Nature, had the system wired.

Harvest roots at the time when seeds are ready to produce the next generation, and aerate the soil in the process. Blind luck, or Cultivation?

Pry out individual roots instead of ripping up acres of sod. Savage lassitude, or Sustainable Harvest?

Burn prairies to keep the trees at bay, fertilize the soil, and maintain habitat for tasty ungulates. Primitive pyromania, or Sophisticated land management?

Producing food without massive inputs, dependence on trans-continental transportation, or global corporations. Witless subsistence, or Wise food policy?

Just asking.