On the Path: Sticks and Spoons

It’s one of those sunny spring mornings where I can’t wait to get out of the car and start walking. I bring my phone, mask, and tea, actually not tea but a warm unsweetened organic soy milk fortified with alfalfa, beet powder, and chia seeds, full of all the things my changing body thinks are yummy these days. 

Often as I wander the Park I think about the hikers of 100 years ago, 150, 200 years, 500 years. I wonder how the Ohlone enjoyed their tea? Certainly not walking around with a plastic cup. (Actually mine isn’t plastic; it’s made from wheat fiber and magic with a rubber lid and it will decay in my lifetime. $5.49 at Whole Foods.) How the heck did they even boil water without iron pots? In deer hides? In baskets? In abalone shells? I’d read about native hot pots—they’d put hot stones in water to heat it up. The Oakland Museum only has one Ohlone basket; they took years to make and were burned with their users. 

When I come to the bottom of the hill, I come to the bottom of my cup, and there’s a problem. 

The chia seeds are all clumped together and won't come out, no matter how hard I jiggle and shake. Now, what would Joaquin Miller do? He would certainly have had a spoon in his Abbey! I think of him when I pack my lunches for these longer days, when I’m hosting a writing retreat, and I forego anything fussy or fancy. Today in the recycled paper bag, I've thrown a hunk of a bread loaf, a chunk of cheese, some almonds, and three pieces of fruit to get me through the day. Sometimes I get clever and bring hard boiled eggs. I have a pocket knife to slice me some cheese, but how oh how am I going to get to my pudding?

Well duh, I am surrounded by tools. 

The stick is nature’s spoon, nature’s fork, nature’s crutch, nature’s weapon. There are more sticks around me than you could shake a stick at. The forest floor is literally littered with potential utensils. I look around...is there one that I might choose to put in my mouth? I consider my options and they all look pretty gross. Now, Joaquin Miller, as he walked and wandered, his head full of poetry, must have had a way of cutting a clean stick from a tree (from perhaps an alder, or a willow?) (I am just guessing, these trees sound so literary; all I know is that branches of a bay tree are, um, kind of sticky, and oak sticks have bark that flakes off) with his knife. Of course I imagine he could just use his knife as an eating utensil. Would he ever even need a spoon? He probably didn’t ever have a chia seed problem. Oh, but he must have eaten lots of cans of beans, cooked many pots of beans! 

I finally choose a spoon-sized stick that’s not too dirty, with a whorl at the bottom where it leapt from a branch that’s kind of wide and scoopy. I wipe the thing off on my jeans and have a go. Ahh, the sweet reward, like flavorless honey from a tree! I slurp up a few stickfulls (sticksfull?) of my prized gray goop. This sticky stick of gray goop on my makeshift spoon. Four slurps later and I feel triumphant, and lick my lips in satisfaction! (Oops, they’re a little grainy, but dirt is full of minerals, right? 

Just then I look up and see the bright colors of a picnic peeking through the trees. It’s quite a spread. They probably would have lent me a spoon. I grin to myself and toss my primitive tool back into the wild, with a jaunty flick of my wrist. And it's gone.


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