Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Take the Gun, Leave the Asparagus


The hunt for wild asparagus in southern Ontario brings out the Alaskan frontierswoman in me

Many years ago when I was teaching in Dawson City, Yukon, I would on occasion cross the border into Alaska. I went by river a few times. My friends and I could leave Dawson on Friday night and arrive in the village of Eagle, Alaska on Sunday. I have some fine memories of paddling down the Yukon River, eating fresh salmon and camping out under the midnight sun.

Sometimes we would fly into Juneau, other times we would take the 'Top of the World Highway' and drive to Skagway or Chicken.

Chicken, Alaska, in those days was about the size of Eagle but as the name implies, it didn't have the same fierce charm. What it did have was an old lady named Anne Purdy.


Anne Purdy had a big gun and a super-sized Alaskan personality to go with it.


When I first moved to Dawson I came across, " Tisha", a book written about her life. She had been a young New England girl who had gone north to teach school in the 1920s. She had fallen in love with a young man who was part native and the prejudice they faced kept them apart for years. Sarah Palin wasn't the first Alaskan to take advantage of Canadian health care, the climax of Mrs. Purdy's story involved a harrowing, life and death dog sled race to Dawson City for medical treatment at fifty degrees below zero.


When I found out that she was still alive I decided to go and meet her.


Around that time Mrs. Purdy was in the middle of a political brawl with the Alaska Bureau of Land Management. I heard her threaten to shoot every last one of the s.o.b.s if they took one step on her (disputed) property. Imagine a proud old lady, tall, with long gray hair, a floor length gingham skirt over rubber boots and a rifle she was prepared to use. The image stayed with me.


Now years later, back in Ontario, I'm the old(ish) lady with the gray(ish) hair. But my land dispute isn't with a faceless bureaucracy, my dispute is with sneaky city people who steal my wild asparagus. We're talking important issues here, folks.


You see, asparagus often grows on the edge of the road in Niagara, the part that is owned, (on paper), by the region. But psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, that little strip of land on the other side of the ditch belongs to the home owner.


I believe that people have no business picking the home owner's asparagus from the home owner's land!


So be warned, if you are on the trail of the wild asparagus in North Pelham this spring, the crazy old lady standing in the ditch will be me. Being Canadian I don't have a gun, but I have a broom, and by golly this year I intend to use the bristly end of it.


So be afraid, you asparagus thieves, be very afraid...







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