Thursday, August 27, 2015
Guest Essay: The Hands of a Gatherer
There is something essentially human about working with your hands, especially when you are gathering food to feed your family. My friend, journalist and author Hank Shaw, has made a career out of his passion for hunting, fishing and foraging, and in this essay he reflects on the reasons he chose this path and why he believes it's good for all of us to engage in. I encourage you to click through to read the entire piece.
My hands feel like they’ve been hit with a weed whacker. One finger is swollen, another scraped to hell. A burn here, a blister there. The tips are all tender, and I don’t know how many little puncture wounds I have that are in various stages of healing.
These are the hands of a gatherer, an angler, a hunter. A cook. They are my hands. This past week has been a maelstrom mashup of almost all that do in my odd little life, and my hands tell that story.
A burn from a catering job. Blisters from hammering away at a rocky shoreline with a steel bulb planter, looking for littlenecks. A nasty puncture wound from a rockfish spine. Another from an errant hook. A lattice of lacerations on the back of my hands – the price of picking blackberries. And with most of my fingerprints scraped off by hours of digging forearm deep into rocky sand in search of buried horseneck clams, it’d be a great time to commit a crime.
Hands, if you look closely, will often tell you how their owners put food on their table. Think of a fisherman’s calloused paws, or an artist’s delicate digits. People’s professions can be guessed at by the state of their hands. Mine are no different, only they tell this story more directly.
Lord knows I need not do this. I have been a writer by trade for more than two decades. I live in a suburb, surrounded by supermarkets. Were I to forsake them, I’d still have a farmer’s market available to me almost every day of the week, and friends who raise livestock far superior to any of the sad, factory-farmed meat you see wrapped in plastic. I choose to work for my food for a variety of reasons, but it’s in no small part because, well, we are hard-wired to do so. Every animal on earth does two things above all else: Reproduce, and eat. It’s what we do.
Yesterday I found myself standing above Tomales Bay, stopping to catch my breath. The hill I was climbing was steep, and I was carrying a bucket full of clams and seawater that weighed somewhere north of 35 pounds. Heart hammering against my ribs, I looked up, gasped for air — and understood why I do this: An oceanic breeze cooled my forehead, whisking away the beading sweat so it could meld itself into the mists that still hung in hollows of this coastal plain. I could smell the salt, but also the spicy perfume of a California summer, a mix dominated in this place by a native bay laurel and a seaside sagebush that I wish I could somehow wear as cologne.
Read the rest of Hank's essay and find out what we have in common with animals in the zoo. Top photo by Holly Heyser.