des fougères -
Dans un village
où il a déjà habité,
Mark D. Connell
pour se rendre à
et à Sandplum
Island. Ces îles,
bordées de basses
une flore magnifique
dans ces conditions.
les fins de semaine
du mois de mai,
jeunes et moins
promenaient le long
des rivières et
ruisseaux, de la
jusquà la rivière
Connell se souvient
davoir vu des
Malécites revenir en
canot ou en bateau
avec des sacs
remplis de fougères.
Ces grâces à des
abénakaise, le Clan
fougères, a été
sortie de loubli.
circulaient parmi les
Clan Fiddlehead -
An Abenaki gift
Mark D. Connell,
Sussex Society for Public Interest
the town where I once lived, as breakup and the tumultuous floods subsided and the green
of early May secretly slipped over the valleys-- yellowing the floors with adders tongues
discretely swelling buds of the Shadbush, a louder activity began.
Rickety, leaking creek
boats were being repaired, tarred or built. These were manned by an enterprising folk from
the age of ten on up - those were the ones who made up the Meduxnekeaq fiddleheading
The beat up creek boats got poled upstream day after day to Fiddlehead or Sandplum
Island to watch for unfurling plunder. When enough heads pushed up through the muddy silt
the boats were dragged ashore and the pickers would set to... picking, scouting,
exhilarated wild browsers moving through the brush, leaving one or two on each clump but
scrambling to get a sack full before others found their patches.
(photo: Lucy Jarvis c. 1918)
Those islands were located in a meandering stream bordered with intervale floodlands.
They were ringed with elms, silver maple, willows and accompanied by understory tangles of
chokecherry, hawthorn, red dogwood and alder. Fiddlehead patches abounded in these
conditions. Little patches could keep a picker going for a few moments but a big patch
could keep two or three pickers busy for a half an hour. Down on the Wulustuk River we
heard of patches that extended for half a mile. These were the places young pickers
dreamed of finding and when they got bolder they did.
In New Brunswick on May weekends young and old foraged up and down the banks of creeks,
rivers and brooks from the Restigouche to the St. Croix. Fiddleheads were long ago shown
to us by the Maliseet, MiKmaq and Passamaquoddy; as they taught us maple sugaring,
the working of weirs and canoeing so did they fiddleheading. These indispensable gifts
from the Abenaki peoples forged links between us - for which, sadly, we have been largely
I remember the Maliseet, like the returning ducks and geese, running down the creek
every year in their big canoes or boats filled with sacks of fiddleheads. When they
arrived we raised up with a shiver, like deer and looked on in awe, captivated. Their
canoes, even when driven by motors, seemed alive to the task, sensing the best landing
spot, always pulling up on good fiddleheading. They exuded the presence and power of being
of the land. They were of the earth; and we came to know it. They didn't exclude us. They
knew that foraging was the right of all creatures and we had a dim sense in our wonder
that these people were the embodiment of a freedom not common to just themselves but to
all of the wild.
Those Maliseet without instruction inducted some of us through example and our
admiration into a much older tribe, a freer tribe, Clan Fiddlehead - a tribe that knew
that the land is as bounteous and generous as the sun is warm. The Maliseet picked and
moved in a deliberate, leisurely ease through the islands, as browsers would and left as
they came, without announcement, like a school of fish turning in mid-stream, slipping
down river to the next intervale, the next island , the next patch.
Fiddleheading, gathering wood, making cookfires, trout fishing, scavenging a living
from the wild, connects us to what we are, the land, the earth. It links us to our deep
past, to wild, resourceful, antediluvian humans; to raccoons, bears, mice, anteaters,
birds, insects, and minute bacteria. Foraging ties us to the mysteries of life back and
beyond the 3 or 4 million years that humans have lived, hunted, feasted, starved, danced,
howled or sang as a species in this world.
On this tiny obscure planet orbiting a star in a corner of a universe the fates threw
open a 1.2 billion year window to a breeze of life that mysteriously arrived, and
flourished as a thin veil on its surface. The tiniest wisp of algae as important as a
giant Sequoia, to its process. When we fiddlehead we weave ourselves, in the minutest way
into the ancient warp and woof of that veil proceeding over the millennia; incorporating
new strands into old strands year after year into its rich cloth composed of myriads of
Fiddleheadin' stands large in my mind as a timeless spring ritual of renewal in our
back country, and to me is of more importance than sugaring-off. Fiddleheaders spreading
out through the spring woods makes a mockery of military parades, Easter Parades,
tickertape parades or graduation parades. These latter day customs do not penetrate deeply
into the past. By contrast, gathering fiddleheads spirals us season by season back through
the ages, past the violence of mad empires into a softer prehistory, past the origins of
trees, of butterflies, of flowers ... beyond the dinosaurs and deep into the
Carboniferous, 350 million years ago - to the lost epoch that signaled the origins of the
fern. Gaia must have gasped as her cloth took on new colour, new texture new design.
Fiddleheads, through all this time, still humbly poke up through litter, branches, mud
and silt. They connect us to the intricate dimensions of our senses - to the kingdom of
touch and the queendoms of smell and taste. They let us know in their visceral way that
humans, a strand in natures hair, are not flawed as our religions, our science and
our cultures would have us believe, but beautiful robust, adaptable and imminently capable
of survival and that we can be at one with her.
Fiddleheads in this way affirm us and induct us into the wild feast, in the here, the
now, along a rattling brook or in a quiet copse, symbolizing the fluid continuity of life
and its renewal as potently as the pagan Easter egg. Gatherers therefore are often brought
to a state of peace and assurance of provision. In contrast to our war-weary world the
peaceful interlude after the maple sugar season is graced with hope ... the snow gradually
disappearing, the ice breaking up, kids trout fishing, wild flowers blooming and the
fiddleheadin' season coming on.
The flip side of fiddleheading is an unconscious act of resistance to the machine, to
our manic bizarre and outlandish culture of mad speed and megabytes. When you fiddlehead,
you are not regulated, you pay no money, no one takes your name when you enter or leave
the patch, neither ruler, bureaucrat, nor priest has any control over the unfurling fern
or your ability to harvest them. It's the Deva's U-Pick. Her slow and deliberate dance
will not be hurried, she pushes up the fiddleheads in her own time. If you follow where
she leads you will feast to your hearts content. This is the spring purge among the
bloodroots and skunk cabbage - a quiet respite from the cacophony of highways, a spring
gorge, a Rabelaisian celebration beside the singing freshet making its way to the mother
Last Spring fiddleheaders heard rumours, news, rumblings that McCains, the Corporate
food giant, wanted fiddlehead picking controlled, licensed, regulated to their own ends.
People under sixteen in this province can go trout fishing without a license, like the
Abenaki peoples they are allowed a moment in their youth to experience the world of the
hunter and gatherer. Fishing for these youths and fiddleheading for rural New Brunswickers
is as important as the bill of rights is to urban citizens; for the Abenaki it is an
inalienable right. They and New Brunswick's Clan Fiddlehead will resist the regulation as
surely as the sun will rise!
We profoundly hope that the government who so often play the role of con men for their
corporate masters and the disoriented urban people of New Brunswick will just once honour
the rural people of our province and the wild place in us all, where the entire universe
lives, for it is that place you find when we are fiddleheading.