“Incredible worlds have opened up, and now I try different kinds of foods as a companion with tea. In the warmer months, I shift to sun tea. I enjoy witnessing the color change from my porch, and throwing in the rosehips, the mint leaves, and watching the sun help open them up.”
I found the natural world as a kid growing up at my family’s farm in northern Wisconsin. At first, I thought nature consisted of city parks. But this farm had an unkempt vibrancy. There was a bog – this terrifying, mysterious, and wonderful space. There were roadside wildflowers and extensive woods. We used to call this area “timber”. That is how I first learned to identify woods. Of course, timber is the harvest, the economical value. The space was actually woodland. I always loved learning about ecological processes and stewardship.
During my undergrad, I studied abroad in Scotland where we would always have tea time. This is when I started drinking tea and it quickly became habitual. Growing up, I was always a picky eater. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. Here was this kid that appeared sullen and didn’t want to eat, but for me, I just didn’t want to put anybody out. Many foods made me sick to my stomach. I felt kind of weird – like the odd one. Because of this, I never really enjoyed mealtime. This began to change when I studied abroad. In Scotland, there was a kinship around teatime, and when I came back to the States I began exploring different kinds of teas, eventually finding foraging.
I began foraging in grad school as a desperately-needed outlet and rejuvenation activity. I was thrown into the deep end of a landscape architecture program with limited design experience. It was very difficult. Many all-nighters, and existential crises. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor’s botanical garden and arboretum became a safe haven for me and my peers. We would walk into the woods to help clear our minds. Our cohort had people from all different walks of life, some were interested in city planning, or environmental justice. It was fascinating to learn from them. We would sit and have a picnic – to give us a break from screens and textbooks – and someone would point out, “Look! It’s burdock root!”. Piece by piece it started to come together–my love for the natural world, tea, and now foraging.
When I started to drink tea, I began understanding the tones and differences in the coloring and taste. This was my gateway to really enjoying and appreciating food in the years to come. I didn’t have the sense and saw food as often unappetizing fuel. We had some Norwegian family meals, like Lutefisk, and many desserts which I didn’t like. We would have big family gatherings and people would say, “She doesn’t like cake. Don’t give her that.” I was this little outcast, but things changed with tea.
My mom would tell stories about exploring the Wisconsin woods when she was a child, but because there were no longer cows and goats on the farm to maintain the undergrowth, we couldn’t experience them in the same way. By the time we were there, the environment was so choked and the horse flies were menacing. I was exploring all these different ecosystems, which I had never seen before, and began to learn colors, leaf shapes, and so much more. I continued to learn as I got older, and when I returned to the farm later on I could identify the Joe Pye weed. This weed had been my friend as a young child, and I finally knew its name. It was nice to have that knowledge. I also connected with Bestefar (grandfather in Norwegian) with an appreciation for the land. He was a farmer and we both felt that this place was very inspiring.
Tea has now become habitual – mornings, throughout the day, into the evening. I love blacks, greens, oolongs, and have recently been getting more into senchas. I also just discovered puer in the last few years and I absolutely love it. My mom thinks it tastes like compost or earth, and that is a good equivalent! It is so rich. Incredible worlds have opened up, and now I try different kinds of foods as a companion with tea. In the warmer months, I shift to sun tea. I enjoy witnessing the color change from my porch, and throwing in the rosehips, the mint leaves, and watching the sun help open them up.
My mom grew up on a different farm in Iowa, and unfortunately, the family had to give that land up to the interstate. She talks so vividly about the catalpas lining the drive up to the house. In the spring or early summer, there would be a carpet of those white flowers. It is interesting that this memory is so distinct to her because it is lost, other than her story sharing. The farm is gone, now it is just a road.
When I was a kid, I really liked cheese! I started out with just American or cheddar. But then I discovered feta, havarti, and all the different moldings. It is similar to tea. I respect and appreciate how long it takes to create some of this food that I just gobble up. I could just be happy with a chunk of cheese and tea. I share this love with many people I encounter. I always try to bring hot water wherever I go, and it has become this wonderful sharing ritual. Tea feels like a connecting force to me, which food never provided me growing up.
SUN TEA: Adding different ingredients and watching the awesome power of the sun transform the random individual elements into a vibrant, beautiful, unique creation with an earthy hue from black to brown to tan to yellow to orange to red and in between.
Toad Hall Sun Tea – rose hips, mint leaves, loose leaf English Breakfast tea
Trinity Pierce, Stewardship Manager, Chicago Region Trees Initiative, The Morton Arboretum
Trinity thrives on leading and learning alongside volunteers in and around green spaces. She has designed and implemented restoration projects from the mountain west to the Midwest; from rural to urban ecosystems. In her role as the Chicago Region Trees Initiative Stewardship Manager, Trinity collaborates with communities to increase awareness of the importance and benefits of trees and foster action through plantings and ongoing maintenance in order to grow a healthier, more diverse urban forest. Trinity holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Michigan and has a background in history, ecological restoration, and urban green space reconciliation.
[ Trinity Pierce is photographed at The Morton Arboretum, her place of employment, in Lisle, Illinois, on 120mm film. ]