Travelling Like Spam Poetry

We have an anniversary.

In the summer of 2005,
the Chief Engineer and I set out to visit every Austrian village
whose names started with the letter Z.

It was a straight-forward idea given that we lived in a z-village. Our universe of websites contains the virtual equivalent – z-village.net, a German website chronicling the adventures and musings of two fearless settlers – calling themselves Subversive Element and Irgendwer (Somebody Doing Anything Nobody Wants to Do). These setters are on a mission to discover myth-enshrouded z-village. Today the z-village website is an epic tomb, but we link to it on our blog: punktwissen – Professional Tinkerers and Restless Settlers, tagging it with How it all got started. Perhaps that’s why not every reader recognizes this blog’s business-y nature.

Now, after I have scared everybody off with weird links (…. wait, I forgot to mention that it was the other members of our EPSI circle that suggested this trip!), here is the story:

We used the official list of z-villages from Austria’s statistical service – 247 places in total in a manual approach to optimization: Trying to visit as many as possible in one round trip. In the end, we managed to see 100 z-villages, driving 2000 km in about 10 days.

So the process was:

Try to find the next z-village shown in your print-out of Google maps or referred to in other sources. Most of these villages were small settlements rather than political entities, comprised of houses with addresses like z-village 7, and finding those was like trying to follow a yellowed old treasure map.

z-tripz-tripFind a place-name sign.

z-trip, found sign.Take a weird photo of the sign (Collection).

z-trip

Take to our heels when local life-forms start wondering. Sometimes it was scary, like Indiana Jones meeting the cannibals. In the north of Austria near the border to Czech Republic  – places typically picked for stereotype dark-family-secret-in-rural-village crime stories – the locals were especially suspicious.

Look, these guys are taking a photo of the sign ????!!!

z-trip, scary place

I realize, it might be hard to see the fun in this. You need to be part of it. Later I proposed this type of travelling to become part of life coaches’ outdoor training offerings. In jest of course, but as usual some people took it seriously.

Via the silly rule implied by the list of names we were forced to travel to places you would never pick for any type of vacation: They were neither advertised to tourists nor intriguing to maverick adventurers. It was like clicking form one hyperlink to the next and having to pick one line for poetry.

In the years before the z-trip our travelling was mainly for business. I mainly saw airports, train stations, motorways, and corporate headquarters. Though it should not have been a secret, the z-trip showed us that we live in a country comprised of fields and forests, of land not completely sealed by the tokens of 20th century’s civilization.

z-trip, as in the bucolic cliché

z-trip, magic well

z-trip, wind farm

We had to neglect some z-villages in the Western, Alpine regions to keep kilometers to a reasonable level. Nevertheless, we saw enough small villages that made us wonder how people can cope with tons of snow.

It was like in these movies portraying New Yorkers travelling to the wilderness of Alaska for the first time, having to deal with harsh weather and raccoons. I realized how clichéd, biased, and distorted some of my views were (… and yet, I use more clichés now to make my point!).

z-trip, wild animals

We both quit our corporate jobs the day after we had returned from that trip.

z-trip, settlers' selfie

Travelling like this was like using the internet in the pre-social-media era: Jumping from one obscure private website – designed by Microsoft FrontPage, with pink marquee taglines – to the next, not sharing and commenting on it.

I crafted my first website in 1997 – with FrontPage, I admit, and for business – but I was very reluctant to enter the interactive social web for a long time. My reluctance was the topic of my very first WordPress post. Since three years I have been exploring Web 2.0, and I am now returning to the z-travelling style of using the internet.

z-trip, mystic river

z-trip, bumpy road ahead

If Only It Would Be Edible …

So I once said when I laid down the scythe, looking at the heap of green. Then I realized that most of the plants in the garden are edible! Most are bitter and intense, very much to my liking! In preparation for this hunter-gatherer’s season I am going to create this cheat sheet – not to pick anything toxic.

Field Fennel Flower. One of my former decoration-only plants. The seeds of the cultivated variety are used to spice pita bread – but these wild seeds should be used sparingly because they contain a toxic alkaloid.

Nigella arvensis sl12

Nigella arvensis, Field Fennel Flower, once a decorative plant in Victorian gardens. Image by Stefan.lefnaer, Wikimedia.

The seed capsules look like alien space probes:

Nigella arvensis fruit,. Image by Luis Fernández, Wikimedia.

Daisy Fleabane – my favorite daisies on sticks, to be used for tea and salad. It had been imported to Europe from America in the 17th century as an ornamental plant.

20120626Berufkraut Hockenheim

Erigeron annuus, Daisy Fleabane. The German name translates to Magic Spell Herb. Image by AnRo0002, Wikimedia.

Normal (short) Daisies: the 2nd most common plant in the ‘lawn’ after yarrow. I find they taste similar to spinach.

Daisies in our garden

Bellis Perennis, Daisies. Historical view of our garden without the solar collector, but with tall trees. Daisies liked the forest-like climate even better.

Daisies, solar collector

Or maybe I am romanticizing the past – still lots of daisies today.

As a child I ate loads of green woodsorrel despite the oxalic acid. Our peskiest bravest weed belongs to the same family: Creeping Woodsorrel, beautiful but capable of slowly destroying any structure of stone with its innocuous pink roots:

Oxalis corniculata, Creeping Woodsorrel. One German name translates to Red Jumping Clover – referring to its catapulted seeds. Image by TeunSpaans on Wikimedia.

Dandelions – I usually uprooted them. The leaves taste like rocket salad with a touch of nuts, and the buds can be used like capers. After World War II people had used the roasted roots as a replacement for coffee.

Dandelions at Home

Taraxacum, Dandelion. The German name means Lion’s Tooth – just as the English one, as I learned from Pairodox’ post. (Image stumbled upon when browsing our our photo folders).

I uprooted this one, too: Chickweed, showing up in early spring. It tastes a bit like fresh corn kernels.

Stellaria media 04

Stellaria media, Chickweed. One German common name translates to Chicken’s Colon. Not sure if this is related to chickens’ craze for it or to the white rubber-like, elastic strand inside the stem. Image by Sanja565658, Wikimedia.

Purslane. Another Plant I had promoted it from weed to decoration. It should taste like pepper, and can be eaten fresh or cooked. Its Wikipedia page features the nutritional merits extensively. In contrast to pepper it survives in our colonies of slugs. Generally, wild edible plants go well with our No Pest Killers / No Fertilizer policy.

Portulaca oleracea stems

Portulaca oleracea, Purslane. The wild variety is creeping as this image shows. We will also try to grow another kind that grows upright.

White Stonecrop. Also resembling green pepper, but more sourly.

sedum album

Sedum Album, White Stonecrop with reddish leaves, growing near the supporting construction of our solar collector. (The smaller, greener one is toxic Sedum Acre – Yellow Stonecrop).

White Yarrow – the perfectly scythe-able, drought-resistant replacement for grass. Great for tea, and perhaps salad in small quantities.

20120922Roter Bruch Walldorf12

Achillea millefolium, Yarrow. It grows (even) more extensively after the trees had been removed. Image by AnRo0002, Wikimedia.

Fireweed – the plant flooding our office with cotton-like fluffs every year as I let a few of them grow, for their ornamental merits. Dave from Pairodox Farm had once published a stunning image of similar seeds of Milkweed. You could use leaves and stems, and the young sprouts are said to taste like asparagus. My expectations are high!

Wikimedia, kallerna [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Violets. Young leaves are edible and the fragrant sweet blooms seem to be somewhat famous. I think I will not eat them though!

Violets, Daisies, Stonecrop, Yarrow

Viola, Violets – in our ‘lawn’ of yarrow, daisies and yellow stonecrop.

I add two classical plants in the herb garden because I had just found them as alleged wild flowers in our garden: Oregano. I recognized it as an edible herb when spotting a blooms on a salad served in a restaurant. Until writing this post and comparing close-ups of blooms I was sure it was marjoram.

Origanum vulgare Prague 2011 1

Oregano, Origanum vulgare. Surviving in our winter and in summer without extra watering. Image by  Karelj, Wikimedia.

Lemon Balm. Great for tea, but I like the green leaves especially as a replacement of jam in pancakes Austrian style. I don’t like sweet taste too much – perhaps that’s why I enjoy all these bitter herbs!.

Melissa officinalis2

Melissa officinalis, Lemon Balm – hard to get rid of it if you don’t want it. Image by KENPEI, Wikimedia.

The first harvest:

Edible wild flowers, first test in spring 2015

Dandelion, daisies, white stonecrop, and chickweed.

Edit on May 25, 2015: More than a month after starting extensive and regular harvesting, I notice I missed an extraordinary plant:

Meadow Goat’s Beard. The leaves can be used like spinache – cooked with olive oil and garlic, very tasty – but German articles suggest the roots are the real delicacy, similar to Black Salsify.

meadow-goats-beard

Tragopogon pratensis, Meadow Goat’s Beard. Blossoms and also leaves are somewhat similar to dandelions, but leaves are thicker, and they come in different textures and colors – a bit ‘hairy’ versus smooth.