Roxie and the Spider RiceWarren and I have logged about ten years as a couple. For the last eight or so, as we've visited one of our favorite canoeing and kayaking haunts in Southeastern Massachusetts, we've repeatedly vowed to return in fall and harvest the wild rice that grows abundantly throughout the marsh. Where DID all those years go? Of course, recently the concept of eating locally has become a popular trend. So this year, by golly, we decided to make good on our vow.
"Should we bring Roxie?" said Warren. Uh-oh. "Hon, you know how she is in the canoe. I'm not sure it's wise to bring her on this trip; you know she'll drive us crazy." "But….." After ten years I've learned which battles are best avoided. The canine companion would accompany us as we collected in the canoe. She hyperventilated in anticipation.
The first (and last) fortuitous sign was that when we arrived at the stream, although we had not checked ahead of time, it was high tide. In this spot one can go out at high or low tide, but it's far more enjoyable at high tide. So off we went, Warren with a cooler for his harvest, I with a cardboard box at my feet. It was a lovely overcast afternoon, with the marsh in its full fall glory.
You harvest wild rice this way: Grab the tall heads of grass, pull down, and lightly tap them on the inside of the box, letting the ripe grains fall off. I got right to work, happily imagining how impressed my friends would be when I served this delectable organic delicacy, so virtuously acquired.
At first it was like, WOW-this is so cool! We became deeply engrossed in selecting the fullest and ripest stalks. Eventually, and at about the same time, we noticed something else accumulating in our boxes…and it was moving. "Yikes," I said. "Where are all these spiders coming from?!" Warren: "Uh, yeah, I don't remember them from the last time I did this [25 years ago]. Must be because of the extra-dry summer or something…." The spiders seemed to be everywhere, three or four falling in with every shake of a stalk. The piles of rice had a life of their own; so did the floor of the canoe. The arachnids were frantically spinning webs, as anxious to escape as I was. I tried stomping discreetly so as not to upset Mr. Natural (or the canoe). We continued maneuvering along, amassing heaps of grain.
Pondering the connection between a dry summer and a bumper crop of spiders, I focused on task and tried to rise above the increasingly creepy sensation that the spiders were in my cleavage crawling up my legs under my baseball cap down my back in my ears lips nose. I can do this! I am an outdoor woman! Then, about 20 minutes into this situation, we heard the first "GAAACK." "Hey, Roxie, what are you doing?! Oh my god, she's EATING THE LEAVES!" cried Warren. "I told you we shouldn't bring her!" I contributed, in my best whiney I-told-you-so voice.
"Gaaaaaaaaack. Cough, cough, belch. Bleeeaaaaahhhhhhck!" The first white foamy green speckled puddle appeared in the center of the canoe. Eeew! Yuck! Initially there was denial. We carried on gathering rice and spiders despite the continuing "gaaacks." But within minutes there was no more denying…the canoe was filling up. At this point we were quite worried about the poor dog. What if this was serious? Amazingly, she wanted to continue eating the stuff. It is not only humans who fail to learn from experience.
By the time we came to a place where Roxie could regurgitate properly on terra firma, the canoe was awash in this awful white foamy stuff, mingled with little spiders and rice grains that had missed our boxes. Roxie was bloated but not particularly distressed-still eager to run and play, quite unaware she had grossed us out big-time. We hauled everything out of the canoe and Warren did his best to rinse it, muttering a few choice words.
The magic was long gone for me, and I think for Warren too. I just couldn't wait to get in the truck and go home. (Whose brilliant idea was this, anyway?!) I couldn't shake the creepy crawly feeling of spiders in me and on me and most likely coming to bed with me that night. We reloaded the canoe and headed for our put-in, making an effort to take in the beauty of the marsh. "Well, that wasn't very relaxing," quipped Warren, with artful understatement.
We do have the wild rice though, a pretty good yield between us. I'm leaving the processing to Warren, but as of this writing the rice has had a day in the sun, and it appears the spiders have departed. Roxie is just fine, ready to do it all again. As for me, well, it's been lots of fun to write about this, definitely funnier in the telling than in the doing.
Written by: Linda Coventry
Submitted by: Ellen Dyer - Roslindale, MA
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