There is something ethereal about the light of an early spring forest. This is where I felt my heart begin to heal again, after someone I loved deeply had passed just months before. Standing in that light, the veil between my heart and the other world he had so recently slipped into became translucent, thinner. And I was comforted. I was not alone in the beauty of that day.
When the sun filters through the first incipient green of trees in April, it touches all the senses. It permeates the air in a surreal, diaphanous glow unlike that of summer, when foliage is well-established and heat makes the air thicker.
This light is imbued with ineffable tenderness. And while it holds you gently, it will move you in a powerful momentum of all things bursting forward, into life.
I had gone into the woods to gather wild leeks—my hands needed to be put to some task. During the time I had cared for my friend, my hands had daily, compassionate purpose. Now, for the first time in my life, I did not know what to do with them. I sunk them into the cool forest earth.
The energy of the many roots in their sudden upward push to purple stem and slender leaf ran through my fingertips. This is what they needed to feel—and the sharp, rich scent hitting my nose as they broke off the first smooth leaf.
Allium tricoccum, the wild leek, makes its entry with the first wild edibles to appear in spring. It heralds its arrival in bright green clusters that shoot up briskly through the moist, rich woodland floors all the way from the Appalachians and north into Canada. Its appearance is brief, though ebullient.
After several days of rain and warmer temperatures, the leaves of the ramps are new and still tender. Of the three or four on a stem, I pinch off one and move on. In this way, little by little, I make my way carefully through and further across the hillside. Here and there, the deep crimson of a trillium flower about to bloom pokes its way through the clusters. The only sounds are the damp leaves underfoot, the buzz of the occasional humming insect, and the lively echoing birdsong slipping through the trees. A beautiful pungent aroma lifts into the moist air from my basket. Blissfully unaware of how far I’ve gone, I stand up, fingers covered in rich earth, eyes tracking the long way back to where I started.
In a few days, I will return for slightly more mature leaves. There is but a small window of time for harvest before the trees have fully leafed out and made the canopy too thick for enough sunlight, and further, rapid growth. A tiny trowel helps to dig and cut the bulb partway so that the base is left untouched and it can grow again. I will bring back a few intact, to transplant to the bank at the house as usual, but harvesting these spring ephemerals in their entirety brings them to an end. It is a careful, slow, respectful harvest.
In the thrusts of early spring, nature provides its restorative tonics, just when we need them most—plantain, coltsfoot, garlic mustard, and horsetail, to name a few. I’m still learning, and there are so many! But the wild leek is by far the culinary hero, with a flavor that sits at the peak of garlic, onion, and shallot, combined.
Surely, in all things there is a greater plan. The growth in April, which is often sharp in taste and bitter, is the one we are given to eat before we taste the berries of July.
A massive chorus of spring peepers has begun their frenzied trilling at the back of the house at a volume that will keep me up at night until they simmer down. Easter is late on the calendar this year, but as always, in time with nature’s cycle of rebirth. The exuberant vitality of all things rising from the dark.
Cardinale Montano is a freelance writer living in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She shares her creativity with good friends, family, and eager learners, and celebrates daily the blessings of nature in the beautiful Berkshires. She is the founder and designer at LineflaxAndRoving.com