I can see medicine and its covered in garbage. I wrap my fingers around the crooked chain link fence, but I won’t push my way in, because if I treat myself with that which grows here I’ll always see toilet paper and Lays potato chip bags. Plantain, common mallow, sweet violet, mugwort, dandelion, cleavers and wild spinach are only just getting started. It’s spring in the city. We could be eating. The city is humming, like a huge electric generator of appliances, wires and human pheromones. There are only small signs of the season. The trees in the little squares of earth are starting to bloom. I send up a sigh and ask it to visit the mountains for me, since I am not there myself. Last weekend my friend took me to the Croton Reservoir, a huge thundering waterfall tumbling over a concrete dam, a reminder of the city not so far away. There’s an expanse of forest surrounding it, narrow hiking trails winding between the trees. It was colder there, and most of the plants were still too young for picking. The tiny wineberry leaves were small enough to barely cover the tip of my finger and their thorns were so young they were still soft. We gathered chives and garlic mustard, the first plants to come up in spring. They carpeted the forest in abundance. Under the ground, I could feel the energy like a current as the seeds burst open and shoots worked to push themselves out of the dirt. It wouldn’t be long: the mountains were preparing to burst. We came back to the city with bags of greens and the smell of water and trees in our clothes. Truthfully, there is something about the city that appeals to me. That current that humans make, constantly changing as our ideas of ourselves are always changing. But the weeds behind the chain link fences are really starting to break my heart. It’s that people don’t know. People don’t know that they are pouring Round-Up on common mallow, which tastes better than spinach and is good for a sore throat or an upset stomach. People who are struggling to buy the iceberg lettuce at the grocery store don’t know that there are enough weeds outside their buildings to feed them. That is, there would be if we all could know they were safe to eat, which I don’t have the power to assure anyone. When I tell people I like to forage, the first question is usually, “But what if a dog peed on it?” Do you know what they put on the food they ship to your grocery stores? I’m sorry, but I’ve gazed out on the workers picking strawberries wearing Haz-Mat suits, the same strawberries parents send in their kids’ lunch boxes, the same strawberries being served at artisanal restaurants, and I would take a bucket of piss from any animal over that. I tell people, “It’s nothing some soap and white vinegar can’t clean.” It’s what might be in the plant that scares me. Old lead paint, gasoline, corroding metal seeping into the ground and entering the sacred, alchemical process of roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds that re-enter the ground, carrying our toxic burdens at the level of the cell. I take these two thoughts and combine them. If people knew, and if the soil was safe for us. If people knew, would the soil become safer? If grandmothers and big brothers wanted to take the kids out to pick groceries, would a push for better soil, for more soil rise like a wave? If we knew that dandelion is nutritious and helps our kidneys, that burdock is great for the liver, that cleavers and those sweet little purple violets move our lymph around, that red clover is high in iron, mugwort can help with stomach problems and missed periods, that most of the weeds we see are not only edible, but good, would we stop putting concrete over our yards and playgrounds? Would we demand the city stop pouring chemicals on the ground and prevent runoff from the road? Would we widen the little squares we give to the trees? Would fewer of us go hungry? Would big farms overtaking the ground begin to diminish? Maybe. I like to think so. But there is an instance that comes to me and breaks my theory in half and the blossoming ideas in my head fall to the proverbial floor. I discovered acorns. I gathered them in a shopping bag and cracked them at my kitchen counter. I boiled them again and again, watching the tannin rich water grow more clear with every round, until they were pale and soft and had lost their bitterness. I roasted them with salt and pepper and maple syrup. They were crunchy, sweet, salty, delicious. I was ecstatic. I was working for a daycare at the time. Me and my co-worker were waiting in the early morning for the kids to arrive at the park where we would lead them through a day of snacks and stories and mud. I felt almost like a kid myself. “Guess what?” I said. “What?” “I figured out how to eat acorns,” I said, “And they’re really good.” I told her the process. She laughed when I was done. “That’s so much work,” she said, “Why don’t you just buy some almonds?” To be fair, she didn’t mean anything by it. Our relationship is mostly based around teasing each other and making sure some kid doesn’t throw a stick at another kid, but truthfully I felt...weird. Like I had done something very strange. Reflecting later on this moment, I began to see some deeper dynamics at play. What I saw in my co-worker was both desire and lack of desire: desire for the convenience of food and a lack of desire to learn how to eat from the land, especially in such a place where good land is hard to come by. So many lives are built so that it is, in fact, impossible to spend much time engrossed in the process of food. For some of us, even the process of going to the grocery store and making food at home is too much. In this scenario, who has time to go and find the patch of wood sorrell growing at the edge of the community garden? Who has time to be excited about acorns? The other thing that comes to my own mind is my own feeling of strangeness. It is simply abnormal to collect food and medicine from the ground, especially in a city. I can feel people’s avoidance of me as I’m traipsing about the park with a plastic bag, some scissors and a trowel. What I’m doing seems gross, and to join me might make you gross, too. Someone might even assume you can’t afford food. If you actually can’t afford food, you might be calling more attention to yourself and someone may decide you are crazy or being destructive to public property, which you certainly don’t need on top of struggling to buy groceries. The response I keep coming to when I think these thoughts, time and time again, is simply: isn’t that sad? Isn’t it sad that that so much in life is put before that which gives us life in the first place? That convenience comes before taste, health, ethics and communion with nature? What are we doing that is so important that our relationship to food has been reduced to so little? Isn’t it sad that the ground can provide for us and we are too busy, uninformed, afraid or ashamed to let it? That someone could be eating for free without any harm to anyone or anything and that is weird? That “normal” has led us to some pretty bereft places where the soul (and the topsoil) has been stripped down to nothing? I recently read a beautiful book called The Education of Little Tree. In it, a Cherokee couple living in the Appalachian mountains takes in their orphaned grandson. Going about in the hills, his Grandfather assures Little Tree that the mountains can provide for people, if they would only let them. I’ve heard people say we need those big farms, that genetically modified foods have saved us all from starvation, and if we ate from the wild we would eat it all up. I’m not an expert, but looking at all the beautiful food and medicine peeking up the ground without any help from us, and calculating how much space we have cleared for industrial farms, I find it hard to believe. Maybe if we still knew how to let the wild provide for us, we would allow more of it to exist. Maybe we would learn to treat the earth with more respect. I leave for the mountains next week without a plan to return. I dreamt of a revolution in the city with little wild food forests on every block and gardens on the rooftops and an exchange of chive pesto recipes and acorn bread alongside the roast chicken at our barbecues. It hasn’t happened, and I think the fences and the garbage and the spinach from California wrapped in plastic bags for $6 a bushel are starting to weaken my spirit. I still believe that my vision is possible, but now I need the strength that the smell of the ground can give me. In The Education of Little Tree, the little orphaned boy tells us, “Everything growing wild is a hundred times stronger than tame things.” I woke up in the city today. Behind the hum of human activity, I can sense the strength of the earth vibrating it’s power. The little sweet violets are singing to me about a different way to be in Springtime. I have gotten a taste of that strong flavor, that powerful wild medicine, and I don’t want to go back.