As much as I consider myself an environmentalist and lover of the planet, I’ve had very limited contact with the outdoors. I grew up in New York City and can navigate urban terrains much better than the woods. How to camp, start a fire, and identify edible plants are enviable skills that we’ve yet to cultivate, but we’re trying to expose our little ones to as much of nature as we can.
Two weekends ago, our outdoorsy plans were cancelled at the last minute. Our itinerary included picking wild nettle and dandelions in an open field. Instead of traveling almost four hours to our destination, a similar opportunity arose in Tahtacıörencik, a village about an hour and a half from Ankara’s city center. Our hosts, a lovely family of four, invited us for a nature walk where we would collect and identify wild herbs, explore the village, and share a potluck meal.
Our day started in the town’s city center where we converged around tea and simit bread while waiting for the group to assemble. Before moving on, we paid a visit to a small shop where a traditional snack called leblebi is made locally. The three-day preparation process involves many stages of shelling, roasting and sifting chickpeas. The shopkeeper is the last of his kind in town and we were glad to offer our patronage. From here, we stopped once more for an orientation and then continued to an open field by a running stream.
Before our host began picking and describing the various herbs around us, he clearly explained to us that he was not a certified herbalist and may not be able to answer all of our inquiries. However, he made one very clever point that really stuck with me—it’s better to know a handful of herbs really well and know how to use them when you need them.
That was such a great comfort to me because I could hardly follow the Turkish names of the new and unfamiliar herbs, but when their functions were described, a comparable herb often came to mind and I was reminded once again just how bountiful the gifts of the earth are and even moreso the Gift-Giver.
After picking, eating, and touching a variety of plants, it was time to sit for our potluck lunch. Around us were signs of the community and farm that is yet to be—a cozy yurt, a bare wooden shed, a portable toilet seat, and a big tent where children played robustly.
I appreciate our hosts’ vision to return to a simpler, harmonious existence through the tools of permaculture, community building, and small-scale farming. They are reaching out through Helpx and Workaway for volunteers who can help build their ecological farm and cottage homes. In an earlier season of my life, I would’ve jumped at such an opportunity, but I’m glad to know that we can return and visit whenever we need to reconnect to the earth and unplug from the city.