Dark Mountain life in a North Leitrim townland

The townland where we live has a range of plants from which we, and all the insects in nature that eat plants, can draw sustenance. I am imagining a new untasted spice made from particular species of lichen that grows here and that we can grow and cultivate successfully here in this townland. I have been reading Dark Mountain this evening and I would like to share some of our cooking ideas augmented by foraged zuzaten, or ingredients. This is a step towards moth farming.

I am now really thinking of which direction to go for a walk, with a basket, where to get the species, what I need to wear to get there, and what I need to cast off from my life to distil this botany knowledge down to its elements. Where to find seed, what to sow, where to till, and what to collect and store in jars for later use. I have a botanical framework for 300+ species on the whole mountain on the computer. It is a matter of honing it, and beginning to cultivate ourselves to the mountain.

My first experiment years ago when I first arrived here was with cheese, by that I mean Crataegus monogyna, the leaves and fruit, the first which could make a lettuce for us, which I have re-eaten for the first time this morning in two years, and the fruits, a peppercorn substitute taken in pairs at the Organic centre.

The next Dark Mountain experiences will be with mint, sedges, dog lichen, and plants that are too specific to mention in print for fear of the pressure we are likely to put on this resource. We had a discussion yesterday on places to look for mushrooms in, knowing that 5 % of the species out there are edible. There are few palaeolithic ancient places here with the vegetation subtlety to match. I am a great fan of Bog Myrtle on the mountain, and every place with it needs sensitive land use. The spring with bog bean, Menyanthes is a special place in this townland, a recharge area that is deeper underfoot.

Last night, moth farming could describe it, I eventually found a way of living here, a Franciscan way, leaving the Augustinian sheep out of it. Some times your life changes. We walk woods through the summer. That is the plan for this year. I need some more pepper corns. The ingredients are a wheelbarrow, a reference to a limestone house in Roscommon, where people moved in and used a wheelbarrow for 6 months, getting the house ready. At the bend in the lane there are Irises roots, which were probably significant. Peter Wyse Jackson’s book, Ireland’s Generous Nature that I gave away to Ted Ahti when he called in to the old office in Dublin, as a gift of Irish botany to influence him when he was going back to Helsinki. Another reference I need to assimilate is Jim O’Connor’s and Paddy Ashe’s 2007 first article on insects that feed on trees in Ireland. This is all about moths, beetles and grasshoppers and would tell us about leaf miners. There have been no agrochemical sprays distributed on this place this year, and the year seems to be turning out well for insects. Another month and we will see.

Last year we were eating some elderflower pancakes, and this year I am looking to name the caterpillar found in the flower heads that turned up last year. Finding function in knowledge is slowly won, and now with this breakthrough, my mind is on fire. The possibilities are intriguing, and the utilitarian approach to plants in the landscape has been give a clearer ethical focus with Dark Mountain readings.

Howard Fox

618 words.

Selected reading:

O’Connor, P. & Ashe, P. (2007) Insects on Trees in Ireland, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and Orthoptera. Bulletin of the Irish Biogeographical Society.

Watson, M. (2021) https://dark-mountain.net/when-we-eat-we-are-eating-the-world/ Dark Mountain. London.

Wyse Jackson, P. (2014) Ireland’s Generous Nature. Missouri.

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