Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hand to Mouth

My sister Becky and I used to run around Riverside Park on the Upper West Side when we were kids.  Usually unsupervised, we dug for worms and poked sticks in anthills to see what would happen. (Exactly what you think would happen, by the way.  After your sister tells you its not a good idea, you do it anyway.  The ants swarm up the stick, covering your hand.  You drop the stick and run away screaming with your sister helping to smush all the hapless ants running up your arm.) We also hunted around for edible plants.  How did we know which plants in the park were edible you may ask?  Advice from other itinerant children, my mother, and my father.  Becky and I climbed a tree and at crab apples.  We called them "May Apples." We also ate the stems of what we called "Onion Grass" but were the green shoots from wild onions.  Our favorite was something we called "Sour Grass."  Not sure what it is really called even today - but I can still identify it.  It tastes a lot like an actual lemon - enough to pucker your mouth.

If we had grown up in the country or even the 'Burbs no one would gasp at this story - but we grew up in Manhattan and went foraging for sustenance in the same park where dogs (and the occasional bum) pee.  Not to worry - we only ate secluded onion grass and sour grass, as far away from dog pee as we could get.

Which brings me to my little girl.  With the great weather I find myself in Fort Tryon Park almost every day with Clara.  She crawls all over the place and I follow her.  I don't really blink when she picks up a stick or a handful of grass to put in her mouth.  Earlier today I showed her a piece of clover. (also tasty).  I was trying to distract her from eating an old brown leaf instead.  It worked.

I know I survived years of eating grass.  Becky ate handfuls of sand out of the sandbox and she's still alive.  But because Clara is my baby I worry...then try not to worry and let her explore.  Babies are very resilient, and they do have some common sense.  When Clara put a small piece of dirt in her mouth today, she made a disgusted face, and spit it out.  Bravo, Clara.  I will try to find you some Sour Grass one of these days.

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