Friday, September 28, 2012

Acorns: Aid for fugitives. Even stupid ones.

This is priceless.

 In 1980 James Ladd was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.  After 31 years of good behavior he was transferred - a decision which I'm guessing is going to draw a little scrutiny in retrospect - to a minimum security facility.  Which he then escaped... for a while.

Upon recapture Ladd told authorities that, "he had 'been rambling in the woods,' surviving on acorns (emphasis mine) and entered town to look for water."

Rambling?  The last guy I know who rambled was Woody Guthrie.  Ladd was silent on the issue of whether or not he also roamed and/or followed his footsteps.

And if you're smart enough to survive - and ramble - on acorns for five days, wouldn't you also be smart enough to find water without sneaking - in an apparently less-than-sneaky way - into town?  In the process Ladd made a liar of his mom (probably not for the first time), who bragged that her son was smart enough to remain at large without getting captured. 

So for any other would-be fugitives reading this: Yes, acorns will sustain you for months on the lam.  But for crying out loud find a creek or spring to drink from!

Thanks to Scott for spotting this story

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Acorns in the mail: The Gambel-er

Getting a care package of acorns in the mail makes every day seem like Christmas.  This time it's Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) acorns gathered in Colorado and sent by my buddy DGP4.

(Click to enlarge)
These little guys came with some serious advance billing in the form of an email entitled "Gambel bliss" (now there's an email from one tree geek to another!) from DGP:  "Every tree I sample has the lowest tannin acorns I ever done tasted."  (It always amuses me when my southern friends have a more pronounced drawl via email than they do in person.  Does that mean I should start putting "eh" and "you betcha" in my emails?)

Tannins = bitter.  When eaten fresh from the shell most acorns - as much as I love them and believe with all my heart that eating acorns on a grand scale will be our salvation - have a coat-your-tongue bitterness like you have been sucking on shoe leather for an hour (not that I have ever sucked on shoe leather and anyways it wasn't for a whole hour).  The water soluble tannins are easily leached in water, but the bitterness does add a step to the process of consuming acorns without curling your toes.

Of course I hadn't even left the post office parking lot before I had cracked and eaten the first of these little gems.  I know from long experience to have my secret acorn tannin antidote close at hand when tasting raw acorns (a can of Mountain Dew).  The Dew was completely unnecessary and my buddy was right: these acorns had not a trace of tannin bitterness.  Flat out delicious.  

So I decided to change plans.  When I was told the acorns had been mailed (and started checking my PO box three times a day like a kid checking his Christmas stocking) the plan was to grind, leach and dry roast them into a fine flour for baking into bread or granola bars.  Now that I have tasted them (and more to the point, now that I have not tasted them) I have a simpler idea:  light coating (translation: heavy slathering) of oil, dash (translation: solid crust) of sea salt, and roasting.  Can't wait.

Except that I'll have to wait.  These little suckers are tiny and shelling them will be a bit of a chore.  I'll let you know when I'm done and how it went.

Then I'm going to market them as "Colorado Cashews."  Just another million dollar idea.  That will die in my kitchen. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Acorns as currency

I looked here but I can't find the currency exchange rate that really matters. Namely, the all-important exchange rate between California black oak (Q. kelloggii) acorns and Mono Lake alkali fly pupae.

At least it would be all-important if you were either a Yokut with eastern Sierra-gathered acorns to trade or a Kutzadika'a living in the Mono Basin (near what is now Lee Vining, CA).  In fact, the issue was quite possibly one of life and death.

In early August we camped just west of Yosemite on the Merced River, in Yosemite itself, and then east of Yosemite near Mono Lake - kind of an 'in the footsteps of Muir' vacation.

We visited Mono Basin Scenic Area and Mono Lake.  Way, way, way cool.  Mono Lake is a remarkable place that people of course did their very best to destroy (while others committed themselves - happily successfully - to saving it).

Mono Lake is one of the oldest lakes in North America.  It is at least 760,000 years old.  Several springs and creeks feed the lake, but there is no outlet - except via evaporation.  Mineral laden water goes in, water evaporates, and the result is a lake with a mineral content that exceeds 10%.  Heck, even I - a.k.a. Chris "The Boat Anchor" Siems - could float in water like that!

No fish can live in those conditions, but the lake is massively productive biologically.  Millions of brine shrimp draw gulls and other migratory birds by the hundreds of thousands.  They mostly nest on the lake's two volcanic islands.  That successful breeding strategy hit a bit of a snag when the City of Los Angeles inserted a massive drinking straw into the lake and drew down the level by more than half, leaving a convenient land bridge for predators out to the islands-turned-peninsulas.  Thankfully the water has risen and the islands are islands once again.

Proving once again that indigenous people rarely get to name themselves (see also Indians, Papago), the Kutzadika'a are often referred to as the Mono people.  Mono is a shortened and bastardized version of Monache, which in the Yokut language means "fly eaters" and was the name by which the Yokuts who guided the first white explorers to the area called them - not the name the people called themselves.

Of course the Kutzakika'a probably referred to the Yokut by some derisive term meaning acorn eaters, so maybe it all evens out in the end.  Whatever that term was (and I'll try to find out) I would wear it as a badge of honor!

Mono Lake also produces tons upon tons of alkali flies.  Which, not surprisingly, produce tons and tons of alkali pupae.  Which are incredibly rich in minerals and protein.  Which I saw in profusion floating on the surface of the water, easily had just for the skimming.

And which, I'm embarrassed to say, I was too much of a wuss to try.  My excuse was that I was afraid that our 2 year old would copy me, and since he had just puked all over his car seat and clothes 20 minutes before (something I'm pretty sure John Muir never had to contend with in his travels) I didn't think that adding fly pupae to his digestive system seemed like an especially great idea. I promise I will sample the local fare on our next visit.  Any food comprised of 10% salt is probably A-OK in my book.

But of course the story that captured my attention is the idea that acorns were considered so important a foodstuff that they were regularly traded and were treated as currency in their own right.

After the trip I read a fantastic biography of John Muir, of course combing it - in vain as it turned out in this case - for references to Muir's own consumption of acorns during his Sierra wanderings (Muir is said to have referred to the acorn cakes eaten by local indigenous people as the most nutritious and sustaining food he knew of).  Muir didn't have a lot of good things to say about the health and cleanliness of the Yokut people he met in and around Yosemite.

One could interpret that to mean that an acorn and alkali fly diet is not particularly healthful.

One could also interpret that to mean it's a little tough to be on the top of your game when 90% of your population and most of what you have held to be Holy and true has been lost to disease and colonization.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Follow by email

I just added a new Follow By Email widget thingamajiggy deal over on the right.  No idea what it actually does.

Be daring!  Be the first to click and find out!

Then tell me and we'll both know.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Oak Gall du Jour

(Click to enlarge)
That's one humongous oak gall!  California white oak (Quercus lobata), Santa Margarita, CA.

For my Midwestern, Eastern and Southeastern readers the scale can be a bit deceiving in terms of the size of the gall relative to the size of the leaves.

(Click to enlarge)
California white (a.k.a. valley) oak leaves can be wee itty bitty.  The leaves on this particular tree aren't that small, but they are nowhere near the size of the white oak (Quercus alba) that you are used to seeing; if they were the gall would be the size of a rugby ball.
As it is the call is still nearly as big as a soda can (that's pop can to you Minnesota friends).  Not that I'd know for sure, and not that I don't have about two dozen Mountain Dew can rolling around the floor of my truck.

I really, really need to get going on making some oak gall ink.  Promise:  One post written in oak gall ink by next week.  It's up to you to hold me to it!