Monday, February 15, 2010

Stalking The Wild Acorn

As an aspiring, would-be, wannabe, someday-gonna-be writer I draw strength and inspiration from stories like that of Euell Gibbons, author of the 1962 classic Stalking The Wild Asparagus. In the edition a friend loaned to me (yes, I will give it back... someday) there is a wonderful introduction written in 1968 by environmental writer John McPhee.

McPhee writes of Gibbons: "In the years that followed, Euell worked as a cowboy. He pulled cotton. He was for a long time a hobo. He worked in a shipyard. He combed beaches. The longest period during which he lived almost exclusively on wild food was five years. All the while, across the decades, he wished to be a writer. He produced long pieces of fiction, and he had no luck.

"Discouragement seemed to come to him with inordinate frequency, so he was not surprised. He passed the age of fifty with virtually nothing published. He saw himself as a total failure, and he had no difficulty discerning that others tended to agree. Finally, after listening to the advice of a literary agent, he sat down to try to combine his interests... he told everybody else how to gather and prepare wild food... He called his first book "Stalking The Wild Asparagus." It became a part of the beginnings of the ecological uplift, and it sold well enough to get onto the best-seller lists. In each succeeding year, it sold more copies that it had the year before."

I'm struck by the similarity with Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series I talked about in the previous post. Among his many & varied careers: Longshoreman, stand-up comedian, truck driver and playwright.

I believe Michener wrote his first novel at 45. Perhaps that's the magic age where you finally have something to say. I think my background is just itinerant enough, and certainly eccentric enough, to finally have a tale to tell. Or at least retell.

Back to Gibbons. It is very telling that the guy who knew more about eating wild food - a guy who actually lived for long periods of time only on wild food, and therefore knows first hand the RATIO of effort-to-sustenance inherent in each food - devotes the first chapter about a specific foodstuff to the acorn:

"If we consider the whole sweep of his existence on earth, it seems likely that mankind has consumed many millions of tons more of acorns that he has of the cereal grains, which made their appearance only during the comparatively recent development of agriculture. It seems a pity that the food which nourished the childhood of our race is today nearly everywhere neglected and despised."

The chapter goes on to describe several means of preparing and eating acorns... which I'll try myself and cover in future posts.

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