A Plant Or Animal Not Native To A Specific Location You Can Survive in the Desert – If You Know Where to Look

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You Can Survive in the Desert – If You Know Where to Look

You’re going camping… but this time you’re feeling adventurous, so you’re not taking much food with you. You will live off the fat of the land, you think. In the desert!

Wait a second. A desert is a hot and barren desert, a ‘dry and desolate land’ suitable for a few insects, reptiles, a few small rodents and an occasional runner or two, right? Not necessarily; in fact, the desert not only has enough food and water for many types of plants and animals, but it can also help ensure our survival by providing the same for us. That is, if only we know where to look.

The Papago Indians know where to look. They have searched and found desert food for thousands of years. Their name, “Papago,” was given to them by other Native Americans and means “Bean-eating people.” It refers to their use of tepari beans as a food base. Tepari is actually one of the many desert foods that they have learned to use for their survival.

“Desert People” is what they call themselves and it seems more fitting given their unique culture. Their culture is based on healthy living making the most of whatever the wilderness has to offer. Of course, they also grow crops, such as beans, corn and pumpkins. But even in good years about three-quarters of their food supply comes from native desert plants and animals.

The men hunt antelope, deer, rabbits and cottontails, mountain sheep, wild boar, mice and some birds. And although they hunt all these animals and others, they kill only those they intend to eat. While the men hunt, the women gather the fruits and buds of prickly cacti; fruit from saguaro (suh-war-oh) and organ cactus; cough buds, fruits and joints; iron seeds and palo verde; mung beans, and seeds and fruits of other plants. They also pit-roast the centers or crowns of agaves when they can find them. More specific information on desert food plants is provided below. Bon appetit!

All cactus fruits are edible. Some fruits, such as the saguaro, open when ripe. Their contents can then be easily removed. Others may turn on a flame to sing from the pillars. Then they are peeled and eaten. You can also eat old and dried cactus seeds. The Papago do it this way: They grind the seeds using two stones; the large bowl-shaped base rock called ‘metate’ and the smaller hand-ground rock, ‘mano’. The ground seeds form a powder to be eaten plain or mixed with water from the ‘pinole’.

Leguminous trees bearing beans of the pea family form a large group from which food can be gathered. The main desert southwest members of this group are the screw and honeysuckle trees and the ironwoods, palo verde, and acacia. These are all small trees that bear large crops of bean pods, which can be boiled and eaten when green and tender. They can also be eaten raw, in small quantities, when they are green. Dried, ripe beans are hard, like cactus seeds, and must be ground. The meal produced in this way can either be made crazy into cakes for baking or cooked with water for a kind of mush.

Papago roasts the central heart of the agave plant over hot coals placed in a pit in the ground. They take the heart from these plants, dig a hole and fill it with a lot of coal. It is quite a large operation to cook the agave heart. The parrots light their fire at night and let the agaves roast overnight.

Life in the desert has never been easy for Papago. But if they work hard together, they can usually support themselves adequately. Each member of the family does his or her part for the good of all. Despite being so familiar with the land, they all know the danger of venturing too far into the wilderness alone. Papago is aware of the desert’s seemingly harsh treatment of those ignorant or foolish enough to fail to show it the respect it deserves.

They also know—and reap—the many rewards it offers to those who will only take the time and patience to recognize it. You can survive in the desert. That is, of course, if you know where to look!

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