Tag Archives: wild radish

Waiting right around the corner.

Succulents and mustard are related by their mutual membership in the plant kingdom, but also by being bright particulars of my weekend that also included lots of ocean watching.

“Why pay a premium for organic brassicas like kale and broccoli at the farmer’s market when all the free wild mustard you could ever ask for is likely waiting right around the corner?”

This question was posed in an article about food foraging that I read last weekend. Pippin’s family was here and we had opportunity to explore the topic. On Saturday we took a long drive to Salt Point State Park, farther north on the coast than I have been in many years, and passed by many vineyards looking like this:

We tried to remember whether the mustard we are used to seeing in springtime in California is at least a near relation to what one buys prepared in a jar, and that night we researched further, finding once again how many good edibles are in the Brassica family. We had no idea we’d get the chance to taste some very soon.

Yes, that mustard above is mustard, and in this context it isn’t considered a weed that needs eradicating. It actually helps suppress the nematode population among the grapevines, because mustard contains high levels of biofumigants in the form of glucosinolates. Evidently the sharp flavor isn’t appreciated by the nematodes. However the mustard got there, it’s ubiquitous now, and beneficial.

At Salt Point the sun shone on us brilliantly, and made us squint. The wind pushed us this way and that, and the sound of crashing surf thundered up the cliffs to where we walked along the headlands. Some of us had gaiters around our necks, which we pulled up to keep our hair out of our eyes and our cheeks warm.

We wanted to climb that “castle rock,” but Pippin thought she better go scout ahead for poison oak. She found a lot of it, so we gave up on that idea.

Most of the plants out there hug the ground or the rocks where they are growing. Even the milkmaids stay under cover. When Ivy took off her gaiter scarf, her hair needed re-gathering into its scrunchie; once we accomplished that, she bounced off musing, “Some people say, ‘Another day, another dollar;’ but we always say, ‘Another day, another hair out of place!'”

Some brassicas are likely in this mix.

Where the trail dropped down close to the shore, we explored the sandstone that has been carved into strange shapes by the wind. The surface of the rocks with the smoothest appearance, where I grabbed when I felt buffeted off balance, was like the coarsest sandpaper.

The children all napped on the way home that evening, but slept long in their bags after they went to bed again later that night. Before we knew it we were all up and going again, but southwest this time, aiming for a hike along the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the one just north of San Francisco County/City, and it soon became evident that this destination, so much closer to a large population, was going to be too crowded. There was nowhere to park at the trailhead.

So we went into the town of Sausalito and looked at boats in the harbor, and ate our lunch at a little park with a view of Angel Island, and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.

The first wild thing we found to eat that morning was oxalis, or sourgrass, also called wood sorrel. Once I told the children about it, they continued to break off stems and chew on it for the rest of the day, it being everywhere we went. Ivy liked the flowers best, but most of us preferred the stems.

Plantain was growing everywhere beneath our feet, mixed in with the oxalis. Scout told me that if you get a rash from stinging nettle you can chew some plantain and put it on the rash to soothe it. But there were no nettles in this neighborhood, and we left the plantain alone.

The water was glittering, and the children discovered countless crabs as they peered into their dark caves among the rocks. While the more agile folk spied on crabs, I admired the colorful minerals in the giant specimens bordering the sidewalk.

Big pine trees with gorgeous trunks shaded us at the park. Ivy and Jamie took on the challenge of climbing one of them. Their mother gave them tips from time to time; eventually Ivy gave Jamie her knee for a footstool, and he was up! Pippin then helped Ivy, and they finished their lunch in an elevated position.

We drove to a different access point for the Marin Headlands and ended up at Point Bonita. Here is a map on which you can see the point, right where a lighthouse needed to be, outside San Francisco Bay at its north entrance. The lighthouse itself is closed currently, but we walked down the little peninsula as far as possible.

We stared and stared at the Golden Gate Bridge, from that perspective that we rarely get, looking in toward the bay. That narrow entrance to a huge bay was named the Golden Gate Strait by John C. Fremont:

“In 1846, when soldier, explorer and future presidential candidate John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fremont used a Greek term to name it: Chrysopylae – in English, Golden Gate. In his 1848 ‘Geographical Memoir,’ Fremont added another layer of meaning: The rugged opening to the Pacific, he wrote, is ‘a golden gate to trade with the Orient.'”

Here is another map of the bay from 1909, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

A couple dozen harbor seals were sunning themselves on rocks in Bonita Cove. We could see Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the south, and the skyline of the city with its new, tallest building, the Salesforce Tower, and indeed it towers over the others. I don’t think it’s as ugly as its name, which speaks volumes about our society. But let’s get back to more interesting things…

… And what do you think we saw at our feet? Mustard! I wouldn’t be surprised if these plants or their grandparents have been hanging around these bluffs for a hundred years or more; they are obviously robust and venerable.

Quite recently they’ve had baths and blow-drys, and the leaves looked so juicy…

… it’s no wonder Pippin wanted to taste a leaf. I of course had to follow suit… Yikes! That is the strongest tasting Brassica I ever hope to sample.

Ivy tried a periwinkle flower and spat it out. Then, the kids interacted with their environment with hands and feet, making their way up the rocky wall to our west.

We walked back up the path and drove around the corner to the former Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. From the batteries we could see north up the coast and south to the lighthouse.

Another Brassica lives on that side, the very common wild radish, raphanus raphanistrum; shown here with violet blooms, though white and yellow are common, too. I used to notice these flowers as I walked home from the bus stop as a child. We didn’t taste this one.

wild radish
California Manroot

The last Brassica experience of the weekend was the next morning when Pippin took a little tour of my garden before they started home. She told me she’d eaten some of the flower buds of my collards. How did they taste? “Like broccoli.” I don’t normally eat my collards raw, but I decided to snap off all the developing flower stems, and I ate them right then. Mm-mm — they were so sweet and tender. And just around the corner of my own house.

Refreshed by a thousand things.


Rain was forecast for both days that Mr. Glad and I had planned to be on California’s North Coast for immersion in the sights and sounds of the sand and waves. But we were undaunted; we just packed extra clothes in case we got soaked on our beach walks, and noted that our hotel room had a (gas) fireplace we could sit next to and cozy up.

P1110483The drive over was only drizzly, and by the time we arrived and ventured out on the bluffs and the shore, the clouds only threatened and did not drip. All the rain fell when we were eating dinner, and while we slept. Wasn’t that a sweet gift from the Father?

We spent our first day in the town of Fort Bragg. This small town did start out as a military fort in 1857, established for the sole purpose of maintaining order on an Indian reservation.

Lumber milling is part of the town’s history, too, and of its presenP1110486t. The old railroad trestle left from when logs came by train from the north evolved into a road and then into its current use as a pedestrian bridge over Pudding Creek where it empties into the Pacific.

At the southern end of the trestle is Glass Beach, another attraction with interesting history. According to the man who has set up the Sea Glass Museum (and store) in town, it has been common through the ages for seaside communities to have garbage dumps at the beach, and much of the garbage would wash out to sea. At Fort Bragg, he says, the ocean currents were atypical, and kept the garbage close to shore. The broken glass was kept in the swirling seawater-tumbler close at hand.P1110494

We didn’t take the time to visit the beaches with the most abundant fields of sea glass, but even the little cove we did examine was thick with fragments of colored and frosty white, what started out as clear, glass.P1110592

MacKerricher State Park is just north of Fort Bragg, and there we walked on the boardwalks that get you out to the beach with as little damage as possible to the coastal plants. We spent most of our time gazing out at the surf, and walking along the bluffs. We looked into tidepools and watched seals bobbing in the waves. This map of the whale migrations may also help some of you simply to get an idea of where we were.P1110579


I found myself this far behind my husband because I made so many stops to shoot photos of little wild radish flowers that were in the lee of the boardwalk and not blowing too wildly.




At this time of year the dominant colors are blue and brown and grey, and it’s easy to overlook points of contrasting brightness.


Back in our room resting before dinner, we were able to leave the door open to the breeze and the cool, damp air, to listen to the surf and watch the gulls swooping past. Below our balcony was the nearly 10-mile long local section of the California Coastal Trail, this part stretching from Fort Bragg to MacKerricher Park. Under the roar of the surf we could hear voices of people walking or bicycling by.



Even in the middle of the night Mr. Glad opened that door and the instant refreshment invigorated my dreaming.



But I must backtrack and show the one food picture I took. Cheesecake is somewhat conventional and boring as a photographic subject, but we wondered how the stellar rasberry decoration was created – shot from a gun, perhaps?


Our breakfast was delicious but even more commonplace. It was the compact little restaurant that was unique and appealing; we had eaten here once years ago and wanted to return. The place is called EP1110518gghead’s, and the theme is The Wizard of Oz. The room is about as wide as Dorothy and her companions standing in a row, and all its decor relates to the story: red shoes, posters of the movie or play, photos of Judy Garland.

Above the kitchen door at the back is a sign: “Nobody Gets in to See the Wizard, Not Nobody Not Nohow.” But actually, to use the restroom one must go through that very kitchen out the back door, where one finds a Yellow Brick Road leading to this shack:

P1110521…where even the comics taped to the wall keep to the theme.

We left Oz fortified for our remaining day of explorations. In addition to more beach time, there were art galleries to peruse, a visit to the Mendocino Headlands and a lunchtime experience that requires a separate posting.

Last, the long drive back through Anderson Valley where we hadn’t been in so long. When we turned away from the coastal bluffs the scent of the air lost the elements of kelp and salt and moisture. Suddenly the smells of the dry conifer forest, with its spicy bay tree accents, filled my senses. We drove along like this for an hour, and I was contented.P1110650crp1

Except for a bit of queasiness from the windy road, which forced us to stop and get out for a few minutes, but it was at a comfortable and lonely place featuring aromatic oaks, a fence overrun with moss and lichen, and the glossy leaves of madrone trees. The leaf mulch under these trees was incredibly thick and spongy. If we’d had a picnic, and preferably a picnic table to go with, it would have been the perfect place to prolong our mini-vacation.

But lacking those amenities, we continued on our way back to civilization, and here we are again. We may look and feel pretty much the same as we did a few days ago, but our quiet adventures have changed us. At the least, we have a thousand more things to thank God for.