Natural nutrition

This article was published January 14, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

As an outdoor photographer and writer, I have been blessed with experiences galore. My journeys have led me to some of the most spectacular views throughout the state. I have also been privy to hanging out with biologists as they have embarked upon studies of all descriptions.

I've watched on as they anesthetized and pulled black bears and their cubs from dens, captured and attached transmitters to bats, tracked timber rattlers via radio telemetry, and let's not forget the thrill of trekking deep into a cave to gather data on clutches of western slimy salamander eggs. The list goes on and on.

I've also had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people during these endeavors. Of course, a majority of these folks were well versed in their field. Some had little personality, and some were eager to share their knowledge. There were the eccentric souls and some could be classified as an "average Joe."

I savored my time with each and every one of these individuals, as they all had knowledge I hungered to acquire. But there were also those who immediately earned a special place in my heart. Not only were they a wealth of information, but they had a knack for making my experience even more special than I had imagined.

I can say with all confidence that one of my most cherished experiences transpired at a rustic house nestled in the Ozarks near Melbourne. I had learned of Billy Joe Tatum through a close friend, and was aware that many considered her as the wild plant guru of Arkansas. In fact, she was nationally acclaimed as a "wild foods authority."

Judging from the information I have gathered, she was a generous soul who hardly met a stranger. Billy Joe's list of friends was vast and her spacious living room was a hosting place for parties galore.

One of her parties was featured in a 1979 article in People Magazine, as her guests included some mighty popular and well-known politicians. But her notoriety and coverage, however, went much deeper than those who attended the shindigs hosted at her home.

Billy Joe's impeccable knowledge of the country life and her ability to utilize the plants lurking lurked beneath the forest canopy earned her spots on "The Dinah Shore Show" and "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. She also lectured at the Smithsonian Institution.

So to say I was excited to meet this living legend would prove an understatement. Although our initial meeting was nearly 20 years ago, I can still recall my excitement as if it were yesterday. I can still remember the anxiety as I neared her home. My interest in wild plants was enormous and I was on the verge of meeting a person who was a wealth of information.

Billy Joe walked out the door as soon as I pulled into her driveway. I didn't find her somewhat weathered skin surprising, as she had obviously spent a great deal of her life in the outdoors. But I was surprised, when we began our hike. And why would I find a journey into the forest strange. Billy Joe Tatum embarked upon the walk without wearing shoes. But despite her bare footedness the trek went without a hitch. In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable and educational walks I have ever experienced.

I managed to keep up with Billy Joe and had the opportunity to correspond with her on occasions. But despite her toughness and love of life, Billy Joe, too, eventually met her demise.

I've since thought about Billy Joe many times. Of course I'll always cherish what I learned during our little trek through the Ozarks. But I also find myself saddened by the vast amount of knowledge she was not able to leave behind.

I recently grew excited, however, upon learning that she published the "Wild Foods Cookbook and Field Guide" in 1976. And I grew even more excited upon learning that a friend owned and was willing to lend to me a copy of the book.

So as the winter months creep in the direction of spring, I anxiously await the opportunity to meander into the forest with hopes of returning with the ingredients of a special and wholesome meal.

Sports on 01/14/2018
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