Monday, August 23, 2010

Wild Rice--Part 2

My foraging friend, Ben, and I met early on Wednesday, mounted the canoe on my car, strapped to it a 16 foot pole, and drove nearly three hours north hoping to find a cornucopia of wild rice (Zizania aquatica). We checked into an overpriced RV campground and pitched our tent among the hulking pleasure palaces that Americans somehow call 'campers' with straight faces. "It's only a place to sleep," Ooga had reminded me. She was right, of course. (She'll tell you that being right is genetic among the women in her family.) We only stayed long enough to scarf down some hastily made sandwiches, and we were off to find our fortunes.

Lake Champlain is beautiful. The local Abenaki had a legend that when the Maker finished the world, he turned himself into a great stone edifice on Lake Champlain's shore so that he could forever admire his greatest masterpiece. But today most of its shoreline is privately owned, and a pair of guys trying to navigate its coastline by the strength of their own arms have precious few places to put their canoe in. I wonder what the Maker would say.

There is wild rice in Champlain, and in the olden days the rice beds must have grown nearly a mile out from shore. But today, the rice is relegated to the quiet coves where motorized boating is prohibited or impossible. I knew where the wild rice grew. Ben spotted it even as we pulled into the boat launch. The problem was that it lay behind a string of white buoys clearly forbidding hunting, fishing, or trespass. We paddled down that line hoping that some adventuresome rice would step its roots over the line into legal waters. Some did.

The beds were different than I imagined they would be. The rice grew thick, so thick that it seemed our canoe would surely get stuck among the tight clumps. We soldiered through anyway. Herons, American bitterns, and muskrats watched suspiciously and bolted when we paddled to close. Eventually, we could paddle no more, and I stood in the canoe as I had read, pole in hand, trying to push us along. The maple pole that I had cut that morning was too long and heavy. We made little headway. None of the wild rice around us would fall no matter how persuasively we tapped it. We were too early. The rice was not ripe.

The day was far from wasted. We spent the rest of the day paddling, watching turtles sun themselves on logs, exploring the lake shore, identifying flowers, watching birds, digging freshwater clams (and putting them back), and earnestly looking for signs of another rice bed. We paddled the rest of the day. We'd forgotten water (DOH!), so I used my filter to purify water from the lake and drank it from a bowl made out of a garbage bag. We found an uninhabited island and explored it, imagining what it might be like to survive in such a place were we marooned there.

We had nearly given up hope of finding another rice bed and were almost back to our launch when we pulled up on a sandy shore and caught sight of an unmistakable light green color. It was rice for sure. Ben tracked moose, raccoon, and weasels in the wet sand. I took pictures of wapato. At the far end of the beach we finally found some--rice plants whose female spikes (the upper part) had opened wide and whose seeds dropped into my hat with a gentle but forceful tap. There were only a handful of plants, and a handful of seed was all that we gathered. But that was enough to rekindle hope. We returned to our campsite dreaming of rice brimming over the gunwales. There will be a Wild Rice, Part 3.


  1. Hi there,

    Just read your wild rice article. Was wondering if you would like to try Goose Valley Wild Rice. I can send you a sample free of charge to try out the brand.

    Let me know.



  2. Yes please, Nicole. We would love to try yours.

  3. Hello! I'm a current Vermonter, former Minnesotan, who is interested in gathering some wild rice. Would you be willing to share more specifics on the location you found the rice? In exchange, we could send you some rice if we're successful! Thanks.