Sometimes when I think about the old ones who have gone before us, I consider what they’ve left behind – stone walls meandering through the woods, apple trees with forests growing up around them, juniper bushes in the old fields, maples trees like sentinels lining backcountry roads, unruly flower beds that have taken on a life of their own, a forgotten strawberry patch in the corner on the hill. Did the old ones hope the next generations would tend to their fields, their orchards, their gardens? Do they know if their dreams have been broken? I am reminded of the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song, “They’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams, and plenty – before the last revolving year is through.”
What will they say about you when you are gone? What will you leave behind when you’ve passed on?
I am almost a half-century and I have been thinking about the gardens I have left behind when I have moved. There are always plants you end up not taking and it can feel as if you are leaving a part of you behind. Oh, the violas. Cute little endearing riots of color to throw in a salad. Those seeds are in the garden somewhere, ready to pop up after you’ve moved on. The lamb’s quarter many may not be happy to find. More seeds than one can eat. But it’s such an accommodating green; tolerating the summer heat while other, more delicate greens whither. And those nourishing nettles will become the bane of the garden for someone. I would like to think though that the nettles would be appreciated. Taking care to cut the tops with scissors, using gloved hands, and letting those green tops fall into a colander. Bringing the greens in to rinse and steam and consume spring’s nutrients. Oh dear, and then there is the comfrey that likes to expand in new clumps along the row. But it’s such a healer. Who wouldn’t appreciate it; steeping the leaves and roots for a tea to sooth the bronchial passages? And the bees love the flowers. Yes, there should always be comfrey in the garden.
I have transplanted purslane into my garden too. I am sure some may think me nuts. But it’s another nutritive green to add to the salad. Or make pesto. And then there is milkweed. Steam the flower buds 10 minutes and then blend for a fun party dip. And besides, the monarch caterpillars need milkweed to thrive. So best to leave some milkweed behind.
And then there were those ostrich ferns that didn’t come up that year and so I could not find them to take them with me. I could only hope that the next person living there knew how to identify the edible types of fiddleheads and would appreciate such a find. Snip off the plump fiddleheads with the grooved stem and bring them in to sauté.
Oh, how could I leave the toothwort? But that tender green took so long to settle in in that little patch of moist shade under the protection of the sugar maple. I watched it come up, knowing I needed to leave it to give this spring ephemeral it’s best chance at survival. I didn’t even pluck a few leaves to sample that deliciously sharp horseradish-like taste. I know where to find more.
Would the juniper be appreciated without me? Would the next person know that juniper berries can be steeped and used as a douche against yeast infections? The juniper was too well established and so I didn’t have the heart to attempt a transplant.
One can only hope that what you leave behind becomes a treasure to someone else; a delicious find!
May you leave beauty in your wake. May you plant seeds that grow to sweet fruition. May you transplant joy that becomes your legacy.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
Into the Outside is a bi-monthly feature in the Ashfield News. This article appears in the May 2019 edition of The Ashfield News.
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