Thursday, March 11, 2004



Last weekend a nice fellow from the village came to the door and asked me if I wanted a forest. He had heard I was a firewood person and he was clearing an acre or two upmountain, and would I like to have the wood, and I did not by any means say no, who wants to let a forest go to waste, so by way of pointing out how things can get sidetracked in Spring, yesterday evening of a sunny day Echo and I set out for a lumber run when I noticed the very first jinchoge blossom had opened.

I bent to take in that rich fragrance and noticed below it and slightly to the right a bright chartreuse flame-shaped bud emerging from our very own front flower bed, when the annual nickel dropped: it was fukinoto (butterbur: Petasites japonicus) season!

Knowing how fast news gets around on the sansai (mountain vegetables) grapevine, we immediately went and got a nice basket and headed off to our favorite secret butterbur-harvesting locations, where we looked for quite a while, heads down, searching for something we hadn't lost, feet poking gently through the new growth beneath the brown weeds of Winter for those little shy light-jade gems until we had about ten of them so we could have 5 each for dinner, you don't want to eat too many at a time (can be toxic, if not properly prepared), not that that many come up at a time anyway, these plants have an ancient intelligence that has clearly served them well (we never weed butterbur that has managed to grow), but anyway they'll be emerging here and there for the next few days, and we'll get our share.

Butterburring is a fully meditative activity, you have to slow way down when looking for them, especially when you have a few already in your basket, filling the air with their tantalizing fragrance; all that slowness and closeness to growth gets you thinking about plant wisdom, how carefully the little bud puts up its guard and picks its places, how it knows the right time and temperature, just as the jinchoge does, to emerge in all newness...

I'm sure there are dozens of scientific answers to all these questions and more, all couched in international standard nomenclature, that satisfy the hunger for question food, but touch nothing of how butterburs long, long ago became us and we them, how we know each other so well now whether we know it or not, and how that awareness is nearly as satisfying as fresh-gathered fukinoto tempura with rice on a chilly Spring evening...

I'll get the forest over the weekend.

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