Since I am behind in the Pagan Blog Project, this blog post will be about two B’s: bioregional knowledge and blueberries. In 1998 Chas Clifton proposed that Pagans and all who would practice a form of nature religion, should learn where we are on the earth, and that we should use our western science as a starting point. He included a questionnaire as a learning tool, one that intend to use. These are some of the questions, but please read the entire thing here.
Where You At?
1. Trace the water that you drink from precipitation to tap.
3. Name five native edible plants in your region and their season(s) that they are available.
4. How long is the growing season?
6. Name five birds that live in your area. Which are migratory and which are year-around residents?
9. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
13. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
Some of these are easy to answer, others not, this also depends on where you draw the boundaries of your bioregional knowledge. My country is a small one. There are no deer in my immediate area, should I include the closest national park in region? Or maybe even include parts of Belgium, Germany and Northern France? You see? I should be studying ecology right now.
This questionnaire may also help to keep track of change in one’s region, such as as climate change. As a child I did a lot of blueberry picking, usually in July. It was a family ritual of sorts. But to my great sadness, I have not been able to find any decent blueberries in the last three years. Summers have always been mild and rather wet in this part of the world, but they turn wetter still while are springs and early autumns become relatively warmer and dryer. The plants are still there, yet the berries are either absent or to small to eat. I suspect this is due to increasing rain levels in the summer season.
This want of blackberries becomes more pressing in my mind, when I travel to place which seem to overflow with berries. When I went to Scotland in 2008 wild raspberries could be found besides every road. And last summer, whilst visiting a quite wet (and previously flooded) Wales, even there blueberries could be found in the Fairy Glen near Betws-y-Coed.
Blueberry picking as a marker of the changing seasons also seems to have historical roots. Finding ‘blueberries’ in the index of Kondratiev’s The Apple Branch (2003), I read: “The wild foods traditionally gather on this day [Lúghnasadh] were blueberries (or other berries of the genus Vaccinium); so closely associated, throughout the Celtic world, was this activity with the feast that in some places it gave its common name (in parts of Ireland the day was called Domnhach na bhFraochóga, Blueberry Sunday). The blueberries seemed to be very important in the pre-industrial era, since they were picked in a time when summer reserves would be running low. They would herald the coming of the harvest bounty yet to come, and at the same time offer the means of celebration in a time of relative scarcity.
Knowing this make me mourn the little berries of the woods (as they are called in Dutch) even more. And it feels as if the ancestors mourn with me.
Hopefully, this summer, they will return once more.