The juice of the blackberries growing wild in the Himalayas is very very sweet. It must have something to do with the soil because even the local karela are sweet. When we went to gather leaves for the cow bedding or gather firewood in berry season it was normal to try and stuff as much of it as possible into your mouth , foraging and foraging more, without losing sense of time. Naren and even Vivek, the stronger than me at that time would have to gather the loads of leaves, I would in typical big-sister style boss over them. When autumn hits the mountains, the leaves are plentiful. So are the wild akrots or walnuts. While we waited to peel off the dried green covering and then crack the nut and pull out the bits with a pin or sticks or suction power of the lips. The natural walnut was very hard-shelled and yield the most delicious kernels stingily. The mountain folk used to collect the green fruit, shell them and store them in piles outside their homes. These green walnut 'fruits' were a natural dye for wool, giving the raw and rough fiber a deep brown-red colour.
After blackberries, taste-wise it was the chullus, or the local Indian apricots. The trees were the easiest to grow, a seed flung in the right place would grow into a tree fast. In less than four to five years, the branches would be filled with the prettiest pink blossoms and soon in autumn, luscious chullus filled the tree. There was always enough for fulfilling anybody's Enid- Blyton dreams.
We set up a small veggie farm ( non-winter farm). Rather it set itself up from any seed we discarded. The best were the cucumber seeds. Mimru, our little friend got us few of the local seeds and told us to plant them upright in the soil like little flat soldiers in the holes. They grew like Jack's proverbial bean stalks, their tendrils reaching and grasping every hold in reach like the mind grasps the objects through its senses. We made enormous bamboo huts and fences and structures to hold up the creepers and finally let it grow wild. There was too much of growing to catch up with. And as the rains drew close, they flowered.
The flowers yellow and profuse on every twiggy green stem were visited by many tiny sun birds ( we thought they were humming birds then). A bird would hover in front of the large yellow flower, its wings humming, and then duck into the flower and fly out. First we thought they were some sort of large bees. One sunny day, a pool of water lay glistening in the sun on our uneven stone court yard and one of these flight experts was taking dips in it. then we noticed it was the tiniest bird we had ever seen. I think it was something like this: http://www.arthurgrosset.com/asiabirds/mrsgould'ssunbird.html. The yellow was very visible and some were very green-grey ( females?). Well the pollination done the first cucumbers began to grow. They grew and grew. We had cucumber salad, raw cucumber, cucumber raitha and plain cucumber juice. And because in our enthusiasm for home grown veggies we had many creepers, we even gave them away to every passer by. The abundance might have had something to do with an adorable and dangerous looking Bruno, our GS, who had the run of the fields and the garden. We were seldom raided by kids or goats. Well the ones we didn't pluck at regular size grew and grew and grew in the rains. They looked like elongated pumpkins and must have weighed a few Kilos. It was great fun to find these fellows hidden in the profusion of thick green foliage and dark and twiney stems.Filled with the waters of the mountain rain, they were reminiscent of life. It says so in the maha mriyunjay mantra. "Urvaarukamiva Bandhanaath" it says, - like a cucumber release me from bondage. And we got that. In real experience. One autumn frosty morning, we found all creepers dried and drying while here and there, now revealed amidst the dying plant lay these huge cucumbers glowing yellow green, their stalks gone dry. These enlightened waters whose attachment to the world had gone. For enlightenment we don't need to get " out of the world," we need to get the " world out of us."
The next blog is about the milk. Of human kindness, of the cows, of gujar buffaloes, milk gone bad, of curd and butter and the perpetual quests for jericans of milk in winter .