It’s one of the first nice days of spring. The sun is out and everyone is wearing t-shirts even though a stiff breeze is blowing cool air off the lake and into our fields. The boys are keeping themselves warm running around outside (Hallelujah!) and I’m washing vegetables at the sink in a contemplative mood. All’s right with the world.
“Mom! Look what we found!”
Ian flies into the mudroom with a rush of cool, earthy air.
“Wild onions! Tons of them!”
His fists are clenched around bright green stringy bundles. His smile is so wide, he might pop. He drops the bundles on the floor.
“Oh wow! That is a lot,” I say, trying not to sound too disappointed that it looks like an Easter basket exploded on the floor. I give Ian a paper bag for his bounty. He snatches it and runs back outside.
“Will!” I hear him shout to his brother. “I have a bag, let’s get more!”
I contemplate my vegetables.
Wild onions are the odor of my childhood. I played outside a lot as a kid; I hated dresses and loved dirt. I built tepees and forts with sticks and old blankets, played “Kick the Can” every summer night, road my bike, rolled in the grass.
I also made mud pies, for real. I turned the red Virginia clay of our backyard into primitive pots, cups, and saucers, drying them in the sun on our back deck. I pretended to be on my own: hunting and gathering. I managed several archaeological digs in our woods. I found a shoe-shaped rock, cracked precisely into two halves, containing prehistoric shell fossils. My mom showed me I could eat dandelion greens. Nasturtiums. Tiny black caps. Wild onions.
Maybe because they were everywhere—or maybe because they were weeds—I picked lots of wild onions. I harvested them like they were the first crop after a long, cold winter. I nibbled on them. I felt a prick of pride being able to fend for myself. Could I live on wild onions and dandelions alone? Yes, when you’re seven years old, you can.
Ian rushes back into the mudroom with a full bag. I’m not paying attention; I’m making dinner. He takes off his shoes and squeezes between me and the counter. He gets a storage container and a lid from the drawer. He shoves his harvest into the container and closes it. He puts it carefully in the refrigerator.
“Now we can save them for later, Mom,” he says.
I want to tell him that squeezing the onions in like that will bruise them. That I really don’t need a bunch of stringy weeds, barely the size of a chive. That I can’t think of a thing to make with them and they’ll just rot. Instead, I just stop cooking, watching Ian’s blonde head in constant motion moving away from me. Constantly moving away.
I’ve got to find a recipe for those onions.
A year later and spring isn’t here yet, but in between grey, wet days of winter cold, we’ve been blessed with sunshine and warmth. It made everyone giddy to go outside, especially me. I’ve been talking about building a fort with the kids forever; this time, we were going to do it.
It was a real team effort: me, me, and a little more from me.
To be fair, I had a wonderful time. I smiled a lot. We dragged dead tree branches around. Prickers scratched my gloves and coat, burrs covered our socks and pants; we lost track of time (I lost track of time!) and finally wandered inside as the light faded only because we were starving. Ian went off alone at some point, creating a special path to our fort. Will got bored and made a make-shift baseball tee from some deadwood.
We had a roof and walls, and we could sit inside—sheltered.
They lost interest after a few weeks in my plans to expand the fort. It got cold again and wet. I didn’t push it. But one day, while they were at school and the sun came out, I walked into the woods to our fort and crawled inside (the benefit of never growing taller than most of today’s 6th graders).
It was cozy. Safe. Quiet. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed it more than my kids did. I felt exactly like my 8 year-old self and remembered why these spaces are so special to children. Spaces where adults (usually) cannot go. Spaces created in a passionate frenzy of joy. Or out of necessity.
I did make that recipe with the wild onions. I made a quiche, I think, and the kids thought it was pretty damn cool.