Working with Wild Rice

rice harvest.jpg

My son and I have permission to harvest Wild Rice from a friend’s land: So, he pushed his old mother in the canoe deep into the rice beds and I knocked the ready seeds into the bottom of the canoe. I made a pair of “knock sticks” that are used to knock the rice into the boat. One stick bends the long stems over the canoe and the other knocks the seeds loose. We saw Beaver, Muskrats, Herons, Egrets, ducks, and a Marsh Wren. Many fished jumped around us. It rained gently the whole time, and was truly a beautiful day.

After collecting enough for a meal or two, I began the process of rendering the seeds from their tough husks. The Ojibwe people call this rice "minoomin". (The plant is actually not rice, but an aquatic grass with edible seeds.)

First, the seeds must lay out on a sheet to dry in the sun. Pick the leaves and debris out. Then, it should be roasted or parched over a fire to loosen the husks until it begins to "pop" like corn, moving and stirring constantly. After that, you "dance the rice" by treading lightly on it with moccasin feet. This loosens the chaff more. 

Next, you have to "wind the rice", or winnow it. I did it over a sheet, tossing it so the wind can take the chaff. This takes a long time. Handling the rice for this length of time allowed my mind to wander. I called to the rice to ask it to come to me, give up your coat so I can put you in my belly!

The rice comes to us from old familiar lands with swampy water, the rains, the bees who pollinate, the birds who carry the seed to different places, the rich soils of my home land, mountain run-off, the big sun! The fish groom the roots and Herons walk among it.

As I picked the remaining chaff from the dark rice, I grow as efficient as the bird foraging for food, separating and eating the best. Occasionally, I popped a nutty seed into my mouth to soften and chew. The wind comes and goes with my work. When it disappears, I "dance the rice" more. When it returns, I toss and "wind" it. This is a lot of work, (good work) for one meal of wild rice, but you can taste a bit of its environment that makes this so good.  We shared it as a special treat, over a family gathering and gave thanks to the sweetness of the land and animal neighbors who nourished these seeds. 

I am reminded of my magical experiences fostering wild orphan critters, and how I noticed their behavior would to change when I introduced elements of the wild into their temporary enclosures.

They were meant to be together: The wildling and the wild ingredients of Nature. These elements put the wild back into them. It is in me too.