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we should appropriately expect nature to do for usand in turn, what good we might do for nature. A reader can not open this first volume \(it doesn’t even get through the tions that have kept Cheatham, et al., going for the twenty-plus years they’ve devoted to their project. It is fitting that Cheatham stumbled onto his project in an anthropology course he was taking while completing a degree in architecture; it was our urbanized population useful wild plants. Our ancestors relied on common plants for home remedies, seasonings, vitamin supplements, fibers, and a wide array of other products that in recent decades we’ve replaced with man-made chemical derivatives. A simple example of new plant uses is provided by Midland entrepreneur Tim Golson’s broomweed conversion project. Golson has managed to take what is widely considered a nuisance plantbroomweed, which he collects and packages as a decorative add-on for dried plant arrangements and turn it into a cash crop. Cheatham says that when more ideas like Golson’s catch on, the world will be a much safer place for wild plants. Recent efforts to develop the wild pawpaw’s crop potential is another example that Cheatham says holds great potential \(there are oil, aroma, and tea possidespite its formidable size and erudition, Useful Wild Plants can find a broader audience, it should inspire others to mine its generous descriptions of the many aromatic, medicinal, ritual, recreational, and chemical uses of the plants. With early sales hovering at a few hundred, Useful Wild Plants hasn’t yet reached a large enough readership to stir much talk in bookstores. But at one hundred twentythat’s not such a big surprise, although it is unfortunate, because of the role the book could eventually play in the critical debate over our place in nature, and what might constitute our responsible use of the land. Cheatham suggests that once we begin to understand truly where we are and the dimensions of our resources, we will also begin to see that we’re but one part of this placeand a small part at that. We can then begin to consider how the parts might better fit together. \(Useful Wild Plants, Inc., is a not-for-profit organization, dedicated to “saving the rainforest in your own backyard.” Annual memberships, which include reduced prices on The Useful Wild Plants of Texas and other benefits, can be obtained by writing Useful Wild Plants, Inc., 2612 Sweeney Lane, Austin, TX 78723, or calling BY ROBERT BRYCE THE BLAZING HEAT tried to fry us. A torrential rain tried to drown us, followed by a flash flood that tried to sweep us into the Rio Grande. A rattlesnake invaded our campsite. That was the first couple of days. The Hunter-Gatherer Trek did not get off to a good start. I had recognized trouble when I got the equipment list: no canteens, knives, backpacks, tents or food allowed. In addition to a hat, pants and long-sleeved shirt, we could take a wool blanket and a pair of gloves nothing more. For a mid-August trip into the rugged . Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, that isn’t much. I was prepared to be uncomfortable. But while I endured hunger, heat and an impossibly hard bed, I could always turn to Jeffrey Sacks for consolationcompared to Sacks, I was Daniel Boone. Before the Hunter-Gatherer Trek, Sacks had never even slept on the ground. A gay Jewish real estate appraiser from the Bronx, Sacks is the quintessential New Yorkerwitty, urbane, and completely innocent about the natural world. Coerced by a friend to join her on the trip, Sacks continually wondered aloud, “What the hell am I doing here?” More than once, I wondered the same thing. Our group of fifteen included an attorney, a housewife, a sixty-year-old grandmother, an investor, a massage therapist, and a couple of college students. We would spend six days in the desertalternately hot, wet and irritablebecause of Scooter Cheatham. A tall, muscular and intense man now in his mid-forties, Cheatham has been leading groups of soft city dwellers into the wilderness for twenty years. His Hunter-Gatherer Trek is a mixture of botany, geology, art, archeology, and anthropology. THIRTY-ONE YEARS EARLIER, Cheatham had traveled his own first wilderness trek. As he tells it, he and a friend took a pocketknife, the Boy Scout Handbook, and a pair of shorts each. Two days later, tired and covered with mosquito bites, they emerged from the wilderness. On that trip, he says, “I learned a lot about how much I didn’t know.” In the years since that first misadventure, Cheatham has become obsessed with plants. “Birds and animals,” he notes, “can pick up and move somewhere else if they don’t like a certain location. Plants have to stay, and adapt to wherever they are. All the great, diverse resources needed to start civilization come from plants.” His interest in plants also led Cheatham to his life’s work, The Useful Wild Plants of Texas. “We’re doing,” he says, “the Brazilian rainforest project in Texas.” Some writers are satisfied writing books; Cheatham had embarked on an ell cyclopedia. At the time of our trek, five years ago, he was editing the first draft of a manuscript that would eventually grow into twelve volumes, describing in detail the prehistoric and present uses of more than three thousand species of wild plants. Among the most useful plants described by Cheatham is the sotol. Archaeological records show remains of sotol in Indian sites dating back to 2000 B.C. The leaves of the sotol, a member of the lily family, were used to make mats, baskets, hats, sandals, brushes, cradles and cordage. The plant is also edible. So in the Chihuahuan desert, we cut away sotol leaves, dug the plants out of the ground, and cooked their inner pineapple-like hearts in an earthen pit. Twenty-four hours later, we scooped them out of the smoldering pit and ate them for dinner. They tasted a little like squash. As we ate, we were the Jumano. Sotol was an important part of the diet for the Jumano Indians, a nomadic tribe that inhabited the Rio Grande region from about 120110 A.D., through the 1600s. Cheatham had told us he always plans his treks in the manner of ancient civilizations, and for our trip, we were re-tracing the path of the Jumano. Jumano women usually wore ponchos made from animal skins; the men were nude, their only adornment ribbons worn on their AFTERWORD Stalking the Wild Sotol Cheatham always plans his treks in the manner of ancient civilizations, and for our trip, we were re-tracing the path of the Jumano. 22 APRIL 19, 1996