Urban Foraging.

Cheryl Leutjen
4 min readAug 10, 2023

Urban Foraging.

My Sacrifices for Art.

As I extract the weeds still stuck to my clammy palm, beads of my sweat drip onto the other greenery I’ve just plopped onto the table. I stand in admiration of my plunder, the bounty of another urban foraging escapade. I’m pretty sure I made it home without being video shamed.

Thanks to a complicated series of bribes and threats, I entice myself into a brisk walk every morning, to free up the creativity that gets bound up in the bedsheets at night. And I say, “every morning” with a wink and a nod because some days are more fraught with excuses than others. “Too hot” has been the leading cause of my commitment demise lately, so I’ve been coercing myself out earlier and earlier — to a time I’d call “still night” on the dark mornings of winter.

I always trek the same few blocks, down to the end of my curvy street and back because, frankly, it’s as far as I can go on level ground. We live on the flank of a hill, and getting my naturally-lazy, grumbling self out of the house for a steep climb takes more resolve than I possess so early in the day. Barring some kind of life-or-death, “house on fire,” sort of enticement, anyway.

I’ve traversed my normal route so many times that I’ve memorized every hedge, picket fence and pee-stained fire hydrant along the way. My overactive Gemini mind usually detests — eschews at all costs! — any routine smacking of “same old, same old,” so I listen to an entertaining podcast as I go. The hike down the old trodden path becomes more of a moveable feast than a tedious drudgery.

So you take a daily walk. Who cares?” I sense you’re asking. Me, too. Stifling a yawn, I confess this post has been the most boring thing I’ve written in recent memory.

Then the jumbled mass of sticks, stems, leaves and weeds before me reminds me that I’ve upped my ante. My daily treks are no longer just about tricking myself into a healthy habit; they’ve become a guise for my stealthy foraging operation. I’m a spy, a thief, a double agent. For thirty minutes a day.

At last, here’s the intrigue, the plot twist.

My daughter gave me a gel plate for my birthday and I’ve gone mad with making prints of things found in nature. So fun and so easy! Slap on some paint, stick on some leaves, press on some paper, and voilà! Art in 60 seconds. Impatient Gemini mind is delighted.

My trek down my “same old, same old” route has transformed into a sort of shopping spree. My neighbors have planted such a variety of vegetation, so many fascinating leaflets, weed stalks and tiny blooms, the possibilities for printing are endless. And all of them, by my way of calculating, FREE. You should see how I do the household budget….

Oh, I started out small, just pinching off pieces of frilly weeds (“no one will want this!”) and intrepid stems pushing through the cracks of the sidewalk (“these don’t belong to anyone!”)

As with any addiction, though — and I am familiar with several — I soon needed more, more, more. No longer satisfied with the unwanted sprouts, I started carrying a pocket knife, the kind with tiny scissors, in my pocket on each foray. I’m such a rule follower by nature (unless the rule is stupid and, yes, I am the sole arbiter of “stupid”) that I clipped only from plants in the public right-of-way, that space between the street and sidewalk. Before I knew it, though, I’d moved on to leaflets peeking out between fence slats and unruly stems poking out from neatly trimmed hedges. “Their gardener will do this on their next visit, anyway!

Even as I clung to my justifications, I realized an onlooker might see it quite differently — as in theft. At first, I looked both ways before clipping, checking for any dog walkers or porch sitters who might rat me out. Till I got caught up in the intrigue, anyway, and I got careless.

And then I got caught. I felt her eyes on me as I turned from the hedge with a fistful of fronds. Female driver sat at the wheel of her car eyeing me in her rear view mirror. Angry homeowner? I froze. Thankfully, she drove away before I passed out from lack of oxygen.

I rushed home without pinching another snippet. We’re all so on edge these days, well, I am, anyway, that I imagined the worst possible repercussions. Did her Ring camera film my villainy? Will she post the video on Nextdoor, to alert people to this crazy gray-haired plant thief roaming our streets? I guzzle an organic raw kombucha to settle my nerves.

Thing is. I can’t quit. Asking me to pass up those tempting lovelies feels as impossible as coming out of an art supply store emptyhanded. Since I’m not aware of any 12-step groups for unrepentant guerrilla foragers, I’m going on the defense. Henceforth, I’ll be donning my ginormous sun hat and sunglasses the size of my face before pilfering. I’m also practicing some evasive maneuvers. It’s all in the footwork.

Uh-oh, I just got an email from Nextdoor, subject line: “BEWARE THIS WOMAN.” Seriously, can’t make this stuff up. It’s not about me, whew, but I’m heeding this cautionary alert. Time to serpentine.

--

--

Cheryl Leutjen

Teetering on a tightrope between more conscientious living and eco-madness, I write about responding to the challenges of our time with heart, hope, and humor.