I saw robins in my backyard last week. In elementary school we learned robins were a sign of spring, which did not make sense since I saw and shot them with my BB gun all winter.
Years later, I learned why. Robins make their living eating earthworms from soft, moist soil. It’s hard for them to get lunch when the ground is frozen. So in the fall they head south for warmer ground.
As spring progresses north, the robins follow it, staying south of the frozen ground. So up north they are a sign spring is happening since they know when to move into an area where the ground will stay soft for them to find food.
Since our ground never freezes for more than a day or two and never very deep, robins can live here year round and you can see them in low, moist areas like my backyard where their food lives.
In my elementary school years, I often left the house early in the morning on Saturday with my BB gun or .22 and spent the day in the woods either alone or with Harold or Hal. During season we hunted squirrels and a rabbit if we saw it, but mostly we were just living wild.
On a good day I would have a can of potted meat and some Ritz crackers or sardines and/or Vienna Sausage and saltines in my pack. Most of the time we depended on shooting a bird or squirrel and roasting it over an open fire for lunch.
Robins were easy to kill and tasted like dove to me. Their dark meat was very good when slowly roasted on a spit. I would shoot and eat most any bird except cardinals and bluebirds. And since daddy said mockingbirds tasted like ants, I never tried one.
If alone for the day, I would often stop by the chicken house and grab a couple of eggs. In the edge of the woods I had a rock “fort” with a special hole lined with soft dog fennel to place the eggs until I got hungry.
I would hunt or wander around in the woods all morning then make my way back to the fort about noon.
I also kept an old tin can there and would fill it with branch water. My little “fireplace” had a flat rock to sit the can on so the water would boil.
While my robin or other critter roasted, I would boil an egg or two and have a great meal. Even with no salt or other seasoning I loved finding my own food, cooking it and eating it.
When hunting season was out I still killed some birds to eat. But in the summer when it was hot and flies were thick, I often spent the day on the branch fishing with a stick, short piece of line and a homemade “fly” catching little bream and horny heads.
I never tried to cook fish; back then I thought the only way to cook fish was to fry them. I know now how good a fish roasted on an open fire can be, but then I stuck with my eggs and whatever I had in my pack.
Linda and I took a camping trip to Maine and Nova Scotia years ago. We camped, often on the shore, for two weeks and cooked most of our meals.
And of course I took a rod and reel.
One afternoon I caught several pretty, colorful fish that looked a lot like trout. I had never seen them before but a local fisherman told me they were pollock and were good to eat. Now you can find them in grocery stores.
Our campsite was right on the edge of the rocky shoreline; nearby was a vegetable stand. We bought some fresh local corn and roasted it in the shuck while the pollock cooked in tinfoil on the same grill. A meal that good would be more expensive than I could afford in a restaurant, but in a restaurant the same meal would never taste as good.
I tried a variety of wild plants and nuts, too. I had heard Indians cooked acorns, so I split one open and bit down on a white oak acorn and spit it out. Later I found out the acorns had to be ground up and soaked to remove the bitter tannin before they were edible.
I ate many pounds of blackberries and sucked nectar out of morning glory flowers. There was one common weed in the field that we called “pigweed,” but I don’t think that is the real name. It had tough, reddish stems and was very hard to pull out of the ground, but the roots had a nutty flavor. I often pulled them up and chewed on them while walking.
Mushrooms tempted me but I was scared of them. I knew some were good to eat and some would kill you; I just didn’t know which. So I stayed away from all of them.
I still love to go out and pick, pull or shoot something to bring in and eat. And I have books showing what wild plants are edible, but the grocery store two miles from my house is too tempting!
Till next time — Gone fishing!