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Luskin: Wild Onions

A friend told me where to find ramps along the West River. But even without directions, the smell of these pungent wild onions would have led me to where they grow between the river and the road.

There was an astonishing number of them, but I dug just a few here and there, so they could replenish themselves.

A nearby patch of fiddlehead ferns was already gone by, even though we’d had just a few days of real spring weather. I did find a couple of old tires tossed over the bank. Either they’d been slung there since Green Up Day, or missed, or maybe no one cleaned up this somewhat remote and uninhabited stretch of road that’s not even maintained in winter.
But it’s certainly used now. Two other foragers arrived as I was leaving.

The next day, a friend who bikes down this road reported seeing ten parked cars with New York license plates - and the onion field full of professional pickers. Initially, we both expressed alarm, outrage, and dismay that people from away would just help themselves to ‘our’ wild ramps - and for profit, no less, since we assumed these foragers were collecting ramps to sell to the restaurant trade.

But then I realized that despite their out-of-state plates they could be Vermont landowners. In fact they could be the owners of the land from which I so gleefully harvested my tasty bucketful without bothering to find out whose it was or asking their permission.

I was surprised at my sense of entitlement – my certainty that somehow it was okay for me to forage there - but not others.

I was shocked at my own sense of ownership – not only of this particular patch of wild riverfront, but of all of Vermont.

And I was embarrassed to find myself exhibiting the very same kind of superior attitude I’d occasionally been subjected to as someone who’s only lived here thirty-four years.

If I hadn’t caught myself, I might have gone on to imagine building a wall to keep foragers from away out - or at least make them prove they’d somehow obtained picker rights – as if we humans could ever really lay claim to the natural world, when in truth, we too are nearly as transient as ramps and fiddleheads in the spring.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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