Sometimes all it takes for me is a couple of days in a new place to reinvigorate my love of the rich diversity of our world. My most recent reinvigoration was at the close of a small trip to the giant city of Austin in Texas. This trip has been a dream in the making for a few years now. Having an overwhelming obsession with food procurement has taken me far and wide from my home base over the last 5 years. This time it took me on a trip to harvest something I have had my eyes on for years now: Pecans.
Having a social media presence in the foraging community has long awarded me with the ability to know what people around the country and even the world are harvesting. Whether or not this is a good thing is an issue for another day. Either way the Texan foragers have had me intrigued for a long time because of the pecans they so easily gather on their mast years. Early in the summer of 2018 I came across a friend back in my hometown that has long since lived in Austin, and I right then and there decided that I needed to make plans with her and her husband to make a foraging trip south for this beloved nut. We talked about it briefly, no plan set in stone, but in the back of my mind I knew I was going. Nothing would hold me back.
As the months went on I did some studying of the Pecan and it’s habit of having “mast” years. A mast year is essentially a way for the tree to take a break from making nuts and give the local squirrels a chance to not be alive next year. Doing this the tree protects its own selfish interest of going forth and multiplying. Less nut predation equals higher chance of baby trees being born. In September I had some communication with an Austin forager that informed me that the crop looked like a bumper crop this year, and that a visit this year would be a good idea. Score for my girlfriend Madelyn and I.
As luck would have it, my girlfriend is equally obsessed with all things foraging and food procurement, so to commemorate our 2nd year together we planned a 4 day trip to the capital of Texas for a foraging trip/anniversary getaway. Having someone in your life so equally nuts about foraging is a real plus in your journey towards feeding yourself from the earth. I’m very lucky.
So on Monday the 29th of October we flew out of Detroit and landed in much warmer Texan air. A vacation for me is a time to slow down and observe my surroundings. A time to stop being such a busy person, as is my usual. We got 1 week bus passes that only cost 11 dollars, and conveniently displayed on our smartphones(I lucked out in this regard, because the app still functions while not connected to WiFi as my smartphone is really just a tiny tablet I carry around with me to take pictures and post to the internet. My real phone is a dumbphone.) and made our way slowly towards our friends house. Stopping a few times along the way to first accurately identify what the pecan tree looks like and pick some of the first nuts of our trip.
Pecans in Austin are everywhere. If I had to guess I would say they are only outnumbered by the numerous and incredibly impressive Southern Live Oak. Once I got my “pecan eyes” I was seeing them everywhere. I couldn’t stop seeing Pecan trees for the rest of our trip. These trees were not wild. Lets get this out of the way before someone says something. I don’t care about their wildness. I cared about procuring delicious calories for my family and I. I’m certain that some of the trees we picked under were seedling trees and thus fit the criteria for wildness, but I wasn’t harvesting for fame and glory from only eating “wild” food.
It became quickly apparent that the landscape and the people in Austin are very different from my native landscape. The people seem overall very nice, very active, and as a result very thin. The people in Austin however exhibited a characteristic seen everywhere else on this continent and probably worldwide in “developed” countries: a proclivity for ignoring the very edible and delicious things growing all around them in favor of the products offered in stores. This is not a generalization of all people in Austin, but a generalization of people in general that live in our nation. Obviously there are outliers. But on the whole this phenomenon is widely recognized among foodies and foragers alike. I picked roughly 300 pounds of chestnuts this year from people in my region that want nothing to do with their chestnut trees.
As a Northern Michigander the plant and animal life of Texas seemed to me like I was visiting an alien planet. Sometimes it felt like a visit to the supermarket. As we walked the streets we saw: Rosemary bushes bigger than I imagined they could be, Olive trees, Passionflower vines, Orange trees, Grapefruit trees, Lime, Agave, Aloe, Prickly pear that was oddly missing its spines, innumerable different Oak species including some Burr Oaks with the largest acorns I have ever set eyes on, Chiltepin Peppers, and many more unidentified species(to me that is). I could have spent a few years there learning the new plants I was seeing.
Of the animals that I took note of were the strange green parakeets flying around, the ever present grackles that make an amazing vocalization that sounds like it could be used in electronic music, and we saw but 4-5 squirrels during our entire trip. These squirrels looked to be half starved and of a very small size in comparison to the squirrels of my state. Which is a fact I find to be amazing considering that, to the outsider, it seemed nearly 60% of the trees had nut crops dropping all over the city. Perhaps the last few years were barren years and thus the population has been very suppressed. I would have loved to have seen other uniquely southern animals, but as I was spending my days in a city, that chance was rather slim. Hearing Coyotes howl at the beginning of nightfall within city limits, from our tent, was very fun.
Overall I would say that our trip was a gigantic success. We had the most amazing hosts I think I have ever had in my life, even going so far as to lend us their jeep to drive around the city and explore when they were not using it! Thank you Autumn and Tree! We managed to pick over 30 pounds of Pecans, a bunch of oranges, olives, wild chili peppers, tons of rosemary, and a bunch of very large striped acorns. We also got to visit a spot that has extraordinary plant life everywhere you walk, reminding you of the amazingness of our Mother Earth. Seeing the same things day in and day out can blunt your sense of wonder. Taking this trip has given me a deep appreciation for the things that could be found on the Avatar world, right here in our world. If I could take another trip to Texas I think that I would like to go out of the city of Austin and do some hunting and foraging in the countryside. The city life is not typically my thing, but it is very good to see that a city has such cool projects going on, like citywide composting and almost everywhere had compostable plastics! I highly suggest going to Austin Texas within the next month(November/December 2018) to pick pecans, as we barely scratched the surface on what one could pick this year. If I lived in Austin I think that I would make it my goal to pick 500 pounds of Pecans. That is a realistic goal this year. Y debo de decir que me dio mucho gusta poder hablar en Español!
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