Acer rubrum To Zyzyphus jujuba
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Remembering the name of one of his favorite snacks proved to be a task that would not be completed until early the next morning, upon waking from sleep. Going to bed trying to think of the name very often was the best way to have it pop into his head early the next morning. It had worked many times before, thanks to beckoning his subconscious mind for that information. And it worked this time. The fruit of the tamarind tree was that favorite snack.
As a forester who was on the trail day after day, year after year, the Footloose Forester made it a habit to seek out trees, shrubs, and bushes that would provide him with fortifying, thirst-quenching edible snacks that also boosted his vitamin intake and to do it along the way. You might say that it was stocking up on trail mix while on the trail. There are a few memorable times when the trail mix was remembered better than the trails themselves.
The blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, currants, blueberries, and strawberries were so common in some places and in so many states that they hardly stand out as prime examples of trail mix but, looking back the family of berries best qualified as the kind of snack that could be eaten fresh from the plant and could also be jammed into pockets and backpacks for consumption further along the trail. That also goes for wild grape, during a narrow time frame in the fall of the year.
The eclectic variety of ingredients of trail mix that the Footloose Forester remembers from the past was seldom—if ever, a true mix of ingredients purposely put into the same packet. Rather, the variety of common berries from local trails were mixed in his memory with a few exotic locales and tropical venues where he was also able to savor the delights of equally exotic forest fruits. There were fresh plantains in Costa Rica, Surinam cherries in Hawaii, jujube apples in Pakistan and Mali, young coconut rinds in Honduras, the fruiting bodies of rattan in Indonesia, and tamarinds in Haiti. And there were star fruits and rambutan; custard apples, soursops, white sapote, guavas, and several other fleshy tree fruits from tropical countries. He also recalls filling his pockets with cloves in Comoros; and ginseng in Russia. Above all, there were the tamarinds in Haiti.
The tartness of the wild tamarinds was a perfect antidote for a dry mouth along the many mountain paths in Haiti where the Footloose Forester lived for several years. In addition, they were loaded with Vitamin C and an essential ingredient in sangria. The best thing about tamarind was its leathery outer pod that protected the pulp-encased seeds inside. Tamarind trees tend to produce an abundance of seed pods and because the tough, dry outer pod holds up well, they are easy to stuff into a pocket or backpack until you are ready to savor the pulp inside.
The Footloose Forester had a favorite tree that stood near the edge of a steep hill where cultivating the land was so difficult that the Haitian farmers were discouraged from trying. That relatively large and prolific pod producing Tamarindus indica standing there over the decades seemed to be a public service provider to anyone who stopped by. It was by the side of the road on a major highway, thus made for a quick stop to fill up his pocket.
By all means, geneticists have developed a sweet variety of tamarind that is available in some supermarkets, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Likewise, there is a sweet variety of starfruit that is sold commercially which is quite unlike that sour starfruit that can be found in the tropical forests of southeast Asia. And although there are two different varieties of jujube (Zyzyphus jujuba) presently growing in the Virginia garden of his beloved Bengal Tiger, the Footloose Forester will forever remember the serendipity of those tiny jujube apples that he harvested as trail mix in Pakistan and Mali. Nothing surpassed the number of trips, however; to his favorite tamarind tree that probably still stands on a ridgeline in Haiti, some 20 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince.