on edible volunteers

Venturing forth to gather fat red raspberries from the wilding patch in our back yard—on a break from canning pickles and freezing blueberries—I was heartened to find evidence today that my winged neighbors have been helping to harvest the berry crop. We stuck eight bare berry canes into the ground some 15 years ago, and they cheerily took more of the bluegrass every summer, until now when there’s little more than a winding path amongst their edge. I’d always meant to plant black raspberries, but never did: this year, however, I found that several had volunteered themselves into a segregated patch as far as they can get away from the reds.

In between the berries runs a spreading single grapevine that we planted eight years ago and have tried our deadlevel best to kill and chop out every summer since . . . but it has managed to colonize the big middle of the yard not claimed by the berries or one giant bleeding heart. The grape’s vines reach hard for the branches of the lilac tree and swing high into another shade tree, and we have to cut them loose every year or they’d take ’em clear down. Ripening grapes now sling themselves willy-nilly, tucking in even amongst the burdock, whose roots are delicious and highly prized. The burdock arrived as an invading army on a yard of topsoil sold to me by a farmer long ago, and I cussed and went after it with a slingblade for five years running until a macrobiotic cook informed me of how nutritional (and expensive!) burdock roots are, and now we grow it on purpose but don’t lift a finger toward that except to dig roots. In one odd-shaped corner off by itself I dropped two canes of currants one year, too, too long ago to remember when: but they return faithfully, slick round sweet fruits hanging from the slightest excuse of a branch.

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 I never fertilize, never water, never do anything but harvest and cut it all back (not always in that order!), but this fertile little patch of ground has convinced me that it is willing to grow anything dropped into it—deliberately or not. In the mid-90s, my children and I, not understanding this capacity, planted four tomato plants. On the day the first one ripened, we made a big deal out of it, celebrating the start of our ‘crop’. Then for the rest of that summer and well into the fall, we ate and canned and gave away so many tomatoes that the mere sight of them made us all gag halfway through winter. When it finally snowed, we had a party to celebrate not having to go pick tomatoes—which were hanging in iced gobs, fat and red and still-delicious-if-you-haven’t-had-900-already. The soil here loves seeds, nurtures life and nutrition, steadies a wandering soul. How I wish all who hunger and yearn for a home could have one as giving as this.

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