I was trying to do some fast shopping the other day and was zipping around the aisles extra fast. I was on the final stretch – fresh fruit and veg – well, as fresh as it gets in a big supermarket! I was speeding towards the salads when suddenly I screeched to a halt. Among the washed and bagged lettuce and the sprayed and sterile vegetables were fiddlehead ferns. They were in a big bag, looking greenly fresh among all the processed stuff. They weren’t processed in any way … just … picked.
I was instantly transported back to an English springtime in the Forest of Dean, when my children were toddlers. A short drive from our house was the most magnificent bluebell woodland. For a few weeks each spring, these ordinary woods are transformed into a spectacular display of nature at her best. There was a bumpy track that I would push the buggy along, my older daughter trotting beside me. We watched those bluebell stems rise out of the ground as the leaves in the beech trees above began to unfurl their pale green leaves. The leaves grew and darkened and the bluebells blossomed into a carpet of perfumed mauve that covered the woodland floor. As the bluebells reached their peak the bracken was rapidly pushing its way up and the fiddleheads were visible through the bluebell leaves. Within days the bracken (or ferns) had pushed past the bluebells to dominate the woodland floor. Both my girls loved to toddle off in pursuit of the perfect bluebell while I wistfully looked on. I would be remembering the days of my childhood, when I could gather great armfuls of bluebells to fill all the vases on my return home. Now, we are not allowed to pick any wild flowers.
There were many woodland walks near our village and we had bought an all-terrain, 3-wheeled double buggy to cope with the bumpy tracks. Pushing both my little girls around could get pretty tiring so I usually stuck to the bigger tracks. Occasionally I would get a little bored with the same old tracks and would branch out down smaller paths.
One day I must have been awfully bored, as I decided to take a steep path UPWARDS! I was following the dry bed of a stream, so it was pretty bumpy. My dear babies were fast asleep, drooling slightly and looking gormless. Onward and upward I valiantly marched, not really noticing that the path had got steeper and narrower until I stopped to get my breath and my bearings.
The path I was following was getting rather faint and I took careful note of the direction it took. The gradient quickly became steep enough that I took more of a weightlifter’s pose as I walked – one leg outstretched, the other leg sharply bent at the knee, arms straight out above my head, holding a great weight. My children seemed to be getting heavier by the second. I looked up to find that I was wading through undergrowth rather than following a path and the pointed front of my trusty buggy was all snarled up with brambles, which was why I couldn’t move. I put the brakes on and moved around to the front of the buggy, only to jump back and apply the other two brakes quickly as the buggy had started to roll down the hill. The brakes didn’t work. I was a bit upset about this until I realized that we were on such a steep angle that grappling hooks would have been better.
Forwards was no longer an option, so I had to do a careful reverse back down the cliff face. By the time I got home I was an exhausted, sweaty mess. As usual the children would sleep soundly until I gently parked them by the front door, hoping to have a few minutes peace. As usual, they woke up the minute I thought I had succeeded.
I miss those baby days, days of walking through the cool woods watching the bluebells and ferns. However I don’t miss them enough to even consider eating fiddlehead ferns, so I grab my bags of sanitized salad and beat a hasty retreat.