The first part of my Chesapeake Semester journey was camping at Chino Farm, a 5,000 acre land, for 3 days. This place is located in a isolated part just pass the Chester river bridge where a dam is operated, a pinewood restoration is in progress, and a pigeon shooting range. This farm is really removed from civilization so I was able to completely be unplugged from technology and get closer with nature. I have gone camping once before during my junior year of high school but this was different, especially during my second night there. My former Archeology professor, Schindler, came to teach the group about foraging food and how to cook with the most basic of tools made from stone and wood.
Professor Schindler had brought with him a number of potteries, a number of stones and wooden tools, and a few foods that would otherwise been foraged or hunted. After setting up he took us around the immediate area of our camping site to show us what plants could be consumed. It was amazing how knowledgable he was, he was reenacting essentially what hunters/gathers would have to do in order to survive. Through a group effort we were able to gather sassafras roots, catnip roots, among others to be used for our dinner that night. What I learned though which was really crucial for a the kind of society we were acting as was knowing about what plants were in season. We tried finding some mushrooms however they were all too old. We also happened to find a persimmon, a fruit, but it too was not ripe enough. We ended up having a really dry mouth with a bitter aftertaste. After looking at what we had gathered, which wasn’t much, I was surprised that we hadn’t found more food. It made me realize that if we had to survive just by forging, it would be difficult even though it was only 8 of us in the group.
Foraging was only part of the learning experience, we also needed to prep all the food and cook. We built a huge fire so that we could cook a couple of things at the same time, from strew to squash, to three colossal leg bones. Yes, though we didn’t hunt and kill a cow, Schindler brought with him three cow bones so we could try bone marrow. We divided up roles, some of us helped skinned the squashes while others skinned a duck, 3 squirrels, and a rabbit. These would have been the common type of animals that we would have hunted for survival, in this case Schindler had these in a freezer for a year. What I thought was amazing was that we were using stone tools to cut away the skins of the squashes while the others used them to cut the meat into quarter sizes. Schindler had made these stone tools known as bifacial cutting tools by hitting rock against rock in a specialized way. These were extraordinarily sharp!! You could honestly cut yourself if you were not careful. Once the meats were fixed, they were placed in a pottery bowl filled with water and set into the fire. We used a pumpkin to cook the squash in with beans and quinoa, instead of placing the pumpkin itself into the fire – Schindler used heated stones. He would put a few on the coals until they were hot and then place them inside the pumpkin to cook the ingredients. I have never seem this been done before and I was instantly fascinated. We had also roasted the pumpkin seeds in a different pottery. For an appetizer we roasted cactus and catnip roots, roasting the cactus helped to get rid of the tiny spikes that came in huge numbers. The catnip roots which were pulled out from the muddy ground were washed and cut to be lightly roasted. You only ate the starch which left the outside layering. Using the types of cutting tools and potteries helped me to understand that if you are living this kind of lifestyle, you really have to make everything yourselves. The energy that was put into prepping the food was long and difficult but that was what it took to cook your food. You had to rely on your skills to know what you were doing.
Now here was the most exciting part of my evening, extracting bone morrow. I’ve always loved eating the fatty parts of a T-bone steak and finding any marrow too. However, I had never seen such enormous leg bones in my life! Schindler explained that these are used sometimes as dog bones which I could imagine a dog enjoying himself very much. Through the whole time we were cooking the food, we had placed these bones on the coals to cook. When we were ready, Schindler placed one on a rock and Kelly, one of my classmates, used a different rock to break it. It was harder than we had all thought, it took several blows but finally the bone splintered and broke. The marrow within was a combination of being “fatty” or liquid like butter. It was delicious – I had never quite had something that good. I didn’t want to indulged myself too much but having some really was great. Once we had cracked open all three bones, we used the leftover bone parts as fuel for the fire. At the end of the meal you only needed to put the dirty pottery bowls face down by the fire to clean because the heat would carbonized the leftovers.
As we sat around the fire we talked about what it meant to be sustainable and what will our future be if we continue down the road we are on now. A few ideas were bounced around from killing off half the currently population and living as hunters/gathers to stopping when we have pushed a species to extinction to giving more energy and natural resources the what we take from the planet. All these ideas were good in my opinion, though some may be unreasonable – namely the first one. But I do think it is vitally important to find some way to become more stainable if not more so aware of what we are doing to this planet. It’s not enough to have a few people change their ways, it must be a global phenomena. People have to really believe that making a change could very well save the future generations from failing natural resource systems. We’ve already passed crucial moments in time where we could have saved the planet and now we are most likely approaching a breaking point where the carrying capacity will no longer support us. Every effort will count towards a better, cleaner planet.