CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the Nature Wonder Weekend opens Sept. 20 at North Bend State Park, nobody will be more filled with wonder than the busy 91-year-old woman who introduced the wild foods program more than four decades ago.
Every year, Parkersburg's Edelene Wood marvels at the growing popularity of her pet event.
The well-known wild food forager started learning about nature's edibles during woodsy walks with her grandmother on their farm during the Depression.
Teaching an adult education class on wild plants led her to noted naturalist Euell Gibbons. He accepted her invitation to speak at the first Nature Wonder Weekend in 1968.
She credits Gibbons, her mentor, for making survival food respectable and acceptable to the masses.
His wild foods disciple made a national name for herself as a lecturer, writer, creator of wild food dishes and longtime president of the National Wild Foods Association.
Earthworm cake, anyone?
"I'm ancient, really. A long time ago, when I was about 50 in North Carolina and doing my first wild foods down there, I was being interviewed. I was about to say I was 51. My hostess told the reporter not to ask me that. She said, 'When your story comes out, she may be too young for the old people to believe and, for the flower children, she may be too old for them to believe.' Anyway, I am 91.
"My great-grandfather was an herbalist. They were country people and believed in all kinds of medicinal herbs and edible things. We lived along the Ohio River around Ravenswood. My mother and father were displaced during the Depression and they took the two of us to a remote area of Jackson County.
"We just happened to eat whatever was available, what most people were doing at that time.
"My father had no money for ammunition for a gun so he devised ways to catch animals. They made many trips to gather blackberries. Our favorite food was hot blackberry jam, which was all they had at times.
"We lived in an area where there had been French settlers. Many of the things I learned were handed down by ethnic groups. It's exciting to find out what the ethnic people used when they came to the U.S. The Italians made cacciatore out of little animals, all sorts of weird things.
"My grandmother had grown up in that part of the country. When we would go for a walk, I listened to what she was saying and was interested and developed this desire to know more about it.
"I attended Parkersburg High School and a college in Parkersburg. I wanted to be a lawyer, but secretary was where fate placed me. Fate places you in strange positions.
"I was a secretary at the power company. They were interested in improving the economy and social life. It was my good fortune to be put in a place where I could help promote all kinds of things.
"The Little Kanawha Regional Council was formed to promote regional improvement, and I was chosen to work with them. Out of that came this desire to help with North Bend State Park.
"Foremost was a program where we tried to interest the state in buying black walnuts from the farmers. They weren't promoting black walnuts. I talked a chef at a major hotel in Parkersburg into making the first black walnut pie I ever ate.
"I could see there were many things they had that would interest people in nature. Birds, wildflowers, everything. I had been teaching wild plant identification at Wood County Adult Education. I had met the writer Euell Gibbons, a wild foods enthusiast and a best-selling author of nature.
"I asked him to come speak. He came and charmed everybody into the idea of mountaineer food or 'make do' food. His audience realized that here was someone who had a unique idea. This was 1968.
"I had people contact me saying not to promote that because it reflects that we are poor. Euell Gibbons called it gourmet wild food, so he made it OK. He's the one who glorified it. He also made it OK for me to be doing more and more. This was in 1968.
"He inspired the idea for the name, Nature Wonder Weekend. He had written to me and the letterhead read 'It Wonders Me,' the name of his place. So we decided to put wonder in there, Nature Wonder Weekend.