08 September 2008

exploring, gathering

With no immediate intentions other than eating our lunch, my bf and I went to Prospect Park yesterday afternoon. The weather was amazing -- sunny but not too hot, perfectly comfortable in the shade -- it was like the storm of Saturday hadn't happened.

After polishing off some rigatoni (with heirloom tomatoes, goat gouda, basil, chives, and fresh chili pepper, yum!) we sat for a bit. We noticed an unusual amount of little children in the park, as if the rain had sprouted them like mushrooms out of the ground. We watched as dogs pranced by, commenting on their coats and gaits, and guessing their breeds, one of our favorite past times.

Then we got up and went over to dog beach for some more canine commentary. Despite recent reports of contamination by rat excrement (more here and here), the little section of the pond that's cordoned off for doggy frolicking was jam packed with puppies.

[Image: Lane Johnson, AM New York]

Aside from the pups, some rose hips poking out from behind a fence caught our attention. Knowing exactly what they were by their leaves, thorns, and telltale fuzzy tops, we picked a bunch.

[The rosehips we picked]

This little discovery-in-plain-sight sparked my newfound fire for finding wild edibles. So we headed into "the woods." Right on cue, as we passed to the right of the pond, we saw a cute little rat feasting on some hawthorne or some other apple-like fruit. Another passerby labeled him "local fauna."

We took a trail we usually don't go down, towards the Center Drive and Nethermead. We walked along the drive, to the southwest, eyes peeled to the ground. Burdock, pokeweed (poisonous at this time of year), jewelweed, and goldenrod -- we identified them and walked on by. Along the drive is a bridle path, and we ended up walking in it (paying heed to horsey landmines). Then we spotted a seemingly less traveled mulch- and leaf-covered path. As close as we were to the road (which generally isn't open to car traffic), I felt strangely transported. It was so serene, apart from the rustling of leaves by robins, squirrels, and a couple of speedy chipmunks.

To the right of this path ran a chainlink fence which I didn't think much of until we came across this sign (on the other side of the fence):

[Image: Noelle D'Arrigo, Brooklyn Paper]

I thought I remembered hearing about a cemetery in the park where Montgomery Clift was buried. For some odd reason, I forgot about this fascinating info. The Quaker Friends Cemetery isn't open to the public, except on rare special occasions or on volunteer clean-up days. But I just love knowing it's there, the little bit of it we could see from the trail. (Learn more about the cemetery.)

[Image: Rikomatic]

We continued up the trail, now heading north-northwest. Caught another view of the cemetery (though not as revealing as the one above) and continued on.

At the bottom of the trail we collected spicebush berries, more to add to last week's collection which have been drying on the countertop (I just put the dried ones in the fridge).

[Fresh vs week-old picked spicebush berries]

Under the spicebush we saw what at first we thought were potatoes, then pears. After further inspection we realized they were some kind of nut. We looked up and realized that high up in the trees there were many more (Please don't fall on my head!). After an inquiry to my go-to foraging expert, Leda Meredith, I learned these were probably horse chestnuts, and therefore not edible.

[Most likely poisonous horse chestnuts]

At this point we were by the baseball fields, behind a big pile of mulch. We walked back to more familiar territory and found some more tree nuts, this time (potentially) edible ones, black walnut.

[Hopefully black walnut... gotta crack it open to find out]

I've lived here for over 5 years and have been to this park countless times, yet there are still new things to discover. (I'm sure the woman who writes A Year in the Park would whole-heartedly agree.) I just have to remember to take a step off the usual path to find them.

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