Have you ever eaten a fern? The young uncurling leaves, called fiddleheads in the US, can be amazingly tender and delicious. The Amis people love ferns, called ‘lokutl’ in their language, and gather them wild or cultivate them in gardens and forest plots.

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Mr. and Mrs. Wang’s fern garden. Can you see where the leaves have been harvested?

Our Amis friend Mr. Wang showed us a beautiful mountain spot, in his family for many generations, where he and his wife carefully grow the ferns for the local market.

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The stuff in the middle is damp, partly rotten, and smells like the soul of the forest.

The mulch that collects in each fern is collected as clean organic mulch for their gardens in town. Sadly, all of their children are working in modern jobs in remote cities with little interest in this Amis style of cultivating wild vegetables.

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A muntjac, or barking deer, spotted in the central mountains. They adore ferns, as Mr. Wang complains…

You might remember that Mr. Wang sold us fern leaves last month and the local restaurant covered them in a light batter, flash fried them, and provided a dipping mixture of salt and Taiwan white pepper (a more fragrant and complex cousin to the familiar black pepper in your shaker. To die for!! The tiny barking deer agree, and raid his garden regularly…

 

 

Dad is now officially an anthropologist!

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Would Margaret Mead’s own dad have gone this far?

We’ve been staying in a tiny indigenous lodging house (owned by Zhong Mama, in my last blog post). She and her 84-year old husband showed up last night with traditional Amis costumes. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Dad let himself be dressed in full male regalia.

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The women’s head-dress contains a mixture of traditional materials (fur, leather, feathers), and modern (bright silk thread, rhinestones). It’s tight behind the ears, but very lightweight.

We were instructed not to giggle, a typical nervous reaction to being honored. But when Zhong Mama and Baba showed us our image in a mirror and then took our pictures, their wrinkled faces were wreathed in smiles!

Anthropological fieldwork in the sub-tropics can be hot and sweaty business. I took this shot yesterday while surveying a field where my father, an Amis lady, and I went to gather wild greens for dinner.

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I could use another hand or two.

Zhong Mama, as she is called, is a youthful 72 years old. Her wild veggie gathering kit consists of a beautiful handmade basket of grasses and a small knife. A whole basketload to feed five adults took only about 15 minutes from start to finish.

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Zhong Mama in farmwoman fashion attire: sensible headgear and a touch of makeup!

The veggies are called sama, dadugum, and gachipilay in Amis language. T

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Gear: handmade basket, twine, and a tiny knife.

They were lightly stirfried with garlic and salt, then some water added for a light broth, and finished with Taiwanese white pepper. Delicious peppery flavor, a tang of bitterness like young spinach or dandelion leaves.

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Eat up! It’s organic!!

Small sweet potatoes roasted on hot rocks are a common offering in 7-11s here. Gooey and delicious, they are beloved of Dad and me and also, apparently, polar bears.

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let’s make beautiful music together–and then I will scarf you down, peel and all.

Sweet potatoes can be spotted conversing on street corners nearby…

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What do tubers find to talk about??

Don’t forget to chase your sweet potato snack with some chilled asparagus or mushroom juice…

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The healthy choice of quadrupedal bikini-clad blondes on beaches everywhere!

The trees of Taiwan each have their own unique personalities. So I’ve been trying to capture them in tree portraits!

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Crazy Banyan tree in a Taipei park nearby. You can get dizzy trying to trace the branches and roots…

Here is another one. I definitely do a better job with a can of lichee beer for additional inspiration.

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Tree ferns are fuzzy and cute, they look like you could stroke them like cats. I haven’t tried it yet.

This magnificent camphor tree graces the Buddhist temple near my Auntie’s Taichung apartment.

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I am dwarfed by this amazing camphor tree!

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The temple has ensured that the tree has all the support it needs using metal struts, and white paint over old wounds.

It is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. So, when this tree sprouted from a seed, Taiwan was home only to indigenous peoples. Its forests were untouched by axe and saw, its rivers ran clean and pure and a-swim with Formosan salmon, and clouded leopards and pangolins prowled the island’s mountain heart.

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This tree rivals General Sherman in its awesome age, size, and beauty. Note Dad looking distorted from the panoramic camera function.

Today this giant is lovingly tended by the temple staff. It has grown and intertwined into this complex human ecosystem, admired and appreciated by its human neighbors, wreathed in incense smoke, and reaching outward and upward to the light as it has for more than a millennium.

The ancestors of the Amis people, who are teaching me a lot about the foraging/gardening/farming interface, have occupied Taiwan’s beautiful east-lands for centuries. I took this picture a few days ago travelling with my father, cousin Sengbo, and Clint.

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High above the Pacific, looking east.

Here, two continental plates meet and the result is stunning: mountains come right down to the coast and in some cases, the cliffs plunge straight into the sea.

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Overlooking the coast near the tiny indigenous town of Su-ao.

Notice the lack of giant beach hotels, pollution, noise, and other build-up. Taiwan’s eastern beaches are nearly pristine, some of the last in the world!

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Clint and I near Yilan, largest town on the NE coast.

For those of you who want to know just who lives on this amazing island, a nice re-blog:

 

Source: Taiwan’s Diverse Communities

A question that haunts archaeologists: Who were Taiwan’s first farmers? Were they descended from indigenous hunter-gatherers who walked across Pleistocene land bridges, or from Chinese farmers who floated across the Taiwan Strait 6,000 years ago?

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A sleepy face? A pregnant torso? Neolithic figure at the A’tolan site, eastern Taiwan.

Or were the first farmers the result of cultural blending, intermarriage, and exchanges like this:

“Hi, we just got in. Have you ever tried planting rice? It’s tasty!”

“Nice to meet you. Looks like a lot of trouble. I like our fish, boars, and wild roots and ferns–thanks.”

“Well, let us know if you want to give it a shot, we’ll be happy to show you.”

“Ok, thanks. We’ll think it over and be back around this way in 6 months.”

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Curved slate knife from descendants of the first farmers: Beinan people.

Farming did take root, and eventually overtook Taiwan as it has nearly every other place on earth. My quest is to explore why the transition seems inevitable, whether it was gradual or even reversible, and finally if our most ancient foraging and early farming roots can help unlock secrets of sustainability and resiliency to todays’ massive, interlocked global food systems. A small goal, no?

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Remains of a stone village from the Beinan Middle Neolithic site, Taitung, Taiwan. Farmers stay in one place to tend crops, but non-movement drives foragers crazy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Taiwan, tea is often used in cooking. Clint and I rode the Maokong Gondola up into the mountains near Taipei two nights ago and had dinner at the Big Tea Pot.

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I wish you could smell this.

We had tea-infused rice, sweet potato greens, spicy fern leaves, and mushroom chicken soup. For the rice, tea leaves are roasted and then ground in a mortar, then added during the cooking process. For the vegetables and soup, small bags of tea are steeped in the broth. The result is a lovely tea scent and aftertaste I’ve never experienced before.

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Mushrooms, tender chicken, bamboo shoots, all in a tea-infused broth.

The view from this open air restaurant was gorgeous. A more romantic and fun dinner can hardly be imagined!

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The lights of night-time Taipei as viewed from the balcony.