We got up this morning to a heavy frost covering our hills.
It was soon melted away by rays of bright sunshine that came down from blue skies and caressed our land. We stand on the threshold of spring, although we have not had the equinox storm that usually comes at this time of year. According to mountain lore, spring cannot come until it snows on the sarvis (serviceberry) bloom.
The sun shines today with surprising warmth, and all the tiny green and growing plants are uncurling and emerging from their winter’s sleep. Slender green blades of new grass thrust their way through the brown and dry clumps of last year’s growth, and the round leaves of the violet are unfurling in the sunshine. Patty brought me a blooming violet over a week ago, sort of blemished and winter-weary, but it was blooming bravely anyway.
Crocuses and daffodils have been blooming in spite of the cold wind that’s been blowing, and crab apple trees are showing off their pink blossoms. The heavenly scent of the crab apple bloom is carried by each vagrant breeze that blows across the yard. Today the sun seems determined to coax new life from the ground.
It is almost time to pick wild greens from our fields and meadows. Local supermarkets stock fresh, green vegetables all winter long, and we eat a lot of broccoli and similar greens. Yet, wild greens that are picked early in the spring are so much better than anything that you can purchase in the store. In our open meadows and fields, away from the pollutions and insecticides, there is a wealth of good things to eat. God has provided us with healthy food for our bodies if we just know where to find it.
One of my early spring joys was to go green picking with Daddy. He would pick so many different varieties of wild greens, telling me that almost everything (except toxic plants) made good greens if they were young and tender. He would gather the early violet leaves, tender blackberry shoots, tiny milkweed stalks, and dandelion and meadow lettuce. He knew so many greens by their common names, and where to find them. I still miss him—not only in the spring, but always.
My wildflower guide book lists the common winter cress (which we always called bitter creasys) as edible, stating that the young leaves can be used in salads or cooked as greens. The dark green plant is attractive as a green, but I always avoided it because of its bitter taste. Perhaps if it were gathered quite young, and cooked in a volume of water, it might be good. My late mother-in-law picked and canned a few jars of these greens, and she thought they were delicious. She gave me a dish of them to sample, and they were so bitter that they would peel your tongue. She didn’t seem to notice the bitter taste. Mom used to grow delicious creasy greens which came up every year in her garden in early spring, which she cooked in bacon grease and ate with a skillet of hot corn bread.
One of the most delicious wild green that I ever ate was a mess of young nettles. These were stinging nettles, which should not be handled with bare hands, as they contain an acid that can cause a severe, burning skin irritation. They should be picked while wearing gloves. The very young shoots and top leaves can be cooked and served as greens or used in soups or stews.
My favorite of all the wild greens is the common pokeweed. It comes through the ground a little later than these other greens, but is watched for and gathered zealously. I like to dig the dirt away and pick it as soon as it has come through the ground, while it is still pink and tender. You can always locate it by last year’s dead stalks that marks the roots. I usually parboil it in two changes of water, and then put it in an iron skillet with some bacon grease and simmer it for a few minutes. It is also very good simply drained, and buttered with salt and pepper. Poke greens and corn bread—there’s no better eating!
The children run and play in this welcome sunshine, and it seems to bathe us in its healing warmth. The good Lord knew exactly when to change the seasons and always sends just what we need. I look across the fields and meadows, and realize that it looks just like it did in Grandma’s day, except for the buildings that have been added. I can picture Grandma in her long, white apron and sunbonnet, carrying a dishpan and paring knife, spying the fresh, tender wild greens that are now appearing. The generations go on, yet many things are just the same.
It is hard for me to realize that I have been in the same spot for almost 83 years, yet it is true. Mom and Daddy brought me here from Big Laurel Creek where I was born, when I was one year old. Except for one year when Criss and I lived in Jackson County, and one year in Kanawha County, I have been here the rest of my life.
It is my desire to be here still in the hills when God sends His death angel to take me away. What a glorious time that will be! From “Almost Heaven” to “God’s Heaven!”
By Anna Letitia Barbauld
Life! I know not what thou art,
But I know that thou and I must part;
And when or how, or where we met
I own to me’s a secret yet.
Life! we’ve been long together,
Through pleasant and through cloudy weather;
‘Tis hard to part when friends are dear—
Perhaps ‘twill cost a sigh, a tear;
Then steal away, give little warning,
Choose thine own time;
Say not good night—but in some brighter clime
Bid me good morning.