You would be hard pressed to find a better way to get to know the place you’re in, then through the act of foraging. Briana Wiles, owner of Rooted Apothecary and Author of the new book, Mountain States Foraging, knows her neck of the woods quite well, considering she packed 115 wild edibles into the pages of that guide.
On a Friday night, no different than the one before, I gathered up friends, and filled my backpack with items not often found there: a mortar and pestle, a bottle of sake the color of a gem, a golden bottle opener, a round of mozzarella and a juicy tomato, too.
With the windows open, we cruised down the highway that skirts Blue Mesa Reservoir, the asphalt striking a mark through the blooming fields of sagebrush. The lake shimmered, competing with that sake bottle for which was bluer.
We turned down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the walls rose on either side of the road, with bramble and brush tucked into granite cliff bands. Near the bottom of the canyon, we snapped on our packs, the weight of sake and beer on our shoulders, and readied our picnic basket for the goods.
Our mission there, in the depths of the canyon was simple: find wild raspberries, wax currants and gooseberries for a quick jam with crackers and cheese.
With the help of Mountain States Foraging, and the wisdom of Aubree Scarff, also of Rooted Apothecary, we leaned off the path and plucked a few berries here and there, making sure to skip every 10 plants between harvesting as to not impact the food supply for the critters, or future plants.
It’s funny, how ‘place’ is something we don’t often think of. Sure, it’s a destination, a map dot at the end of a journey, but we have a hard time being present enough in this life to see a place beyond the small moments that happen there.
We made our way down the path, plucking, nibbling and hunching over plants to examine leaves, excitedly yelling “look!!” when we found bushes filled with currants, the berries sticky in the heat. We were discovering that place, beyond the moment that was unfolding—we understood the dirt, the water and the soil, if only because of the plants that thrived there.
We were completely present in the bottom of that canyon. As the sun cut through the granite walls in ribbons, we knew exactly where we were in the world, because of the berries we dropped into our wicker basket.
Once we had enough berries for a jam, we found a bench along the path. Under the shade of a Douglas fir, we popped open beers, and I twisted the cap of that blue bottle as Aubree mashed berries with honey. I sliced thick rounds of mozzarella and tomato with a pocket knife, laid out crispy crackers, and shooed away a particularly friendly chipmunk.
And we sat there as the the sun inched farther down the canyon walls, and we talked, we tasted the tart berries, and felt the dust beneath our toes. We clinked glasses of sake, adorned with wild elderflowers and fireweed. Our laughter was carried away with the emerald water of the river.
We sat down by the river, the water cold on our dusty toes, and we were content in that place, and in the moment, bellies full with fresh goodies plucked by our very own hands—how could we not be satisfied?
Even that overzealous chipmunk lucked out, as we turned to pack up, we found him with full cheeks munching a couple left over berries in our basket.
It was a Friday night well spent in the Colorado Rockies.
—Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary