When I moved to rural Vermont, I thought it would be like anywhere else, just with dirt roads, fewer people, and more trees.
Oh, was I wrong.
For one thing, I've never seen people who respond so strongly to the seasons. I have witnessed people’s personalities change. Summer extroverts who light up as they tell campfire stories and play guitar to entertain their out-of-town guests become winter introverts who go for days (weeks?) without leaving the house. People I see weekly in the summer disappear until Memorial Day.
The seasons take charge of anyone who stays here long enough—myself, I never dreamed I’d start going to bed at 9 pm, but by February, there I was, brushing my teeth at 8:30.
And in the spring, when the new, early-morning light works its magic on us, we get moving. Finally awake from the months of winter slumber, everyone makes up for lost time. Not only the farmers, but all of us have come out to plant the seeds of our lives. As soon as the snow melted, I suddenly lost my taste for my introspective writing project and dug into designing the website I’d meant to upload all winter long. Now, like the daffodils, it has suddenly sprung into being.
I would venture to say that most everyone here is involved with a new client, or a new home, or a new project. Seriously: open a Vermont phonebook, call any random number, and ask the person on the phone how they’re doing. I guarantee they will say, “Busy!” (If they don’t hang up on you, a cold-calling stranger.)
So is it a coincidence that the locals call wild leeks, the first vegetable to be foraged, ramps? They feed us as we ramp ourselves up for the spring. (Another difference between Vermonters and city people: we are proud to forage for our food—of course, searching the woods for special plants is a bit more dignified than diving through dumpsters for leftovers.)
Because ramps are the first of the year’s foraged foods, I’ve missed them in years past, ruefully listening to others talk about them after the fact. Not this year! Last week, Pete and I had heard that ramps were in the area, and when we got a second report of this, we dashed into our yard, ignoring the rain, to scour the ground by our brook. (Ramps grow in the vicinity of water.) I saw some promising leaves and started digging up some rampy-looking grass.
“Does it smell?” asked Peter.
I sniffed at the earth-covered roots. “No.”
“Not ramps,” he pronounced.
Since they smell strongly like onions, we went back inside, empty-handed.
But in the spring, things happen fast. Later that morning, Pete returned triumphantly from his run. “Ramps!” he cried, and then we were both out the door with shovel in hand.
A Google search for “ramps” can help the novice forager with photos of the wide-leaved allium (along with pictures of the wheelchair-accessible variety) but only the nose knows for sure. An experienced forager, Peter knew where to dig, and then had me smell the roots. Even through the mud, their sharp aroma was that of onions, all right.
As we filled our bag, Peter told me that he’d been gone running along our road in search of ramps, but since he didn’t see any, he gave up looking. After he gave up his search, of course, is when he noticed the ramps.
I remarked how I’ve learned (and re-learned) this same lesson from years of practicing yoga. Desperately searching—pushing and striving—only serve to age a person. Instead, gently detaching from the outcome of our actions, but still showing up, enjoying ourselves, and staying aware, is how we succeed, either on the yoga mat or running by a patch of ramps.
“How are we going to eat all these?” I mused.
We were due at a potluck that evening, so we diced the white part of some of our ramps to sub in for the onion in a soup recipe that worked out wonderfully. (It probably helped that we added some red onion for sweetness.) The soup was so good, I’ll even link the recipe twice.
And, since we dined with other foraging Vermonters, we also got to enjoy ramps sautéed and served on flatbread, which really showcased their tangy earthiness. The flatbread chef, our friend Ellen, recommended making ramp pesto, since the ramps work in place of both the basil and the garlic.
But Ellen forgot to mention that the ramps need to be blanched first for pesto. When we made it a few nights later, we found the pesto to be a little, um, too tasty. "What should we have for dessert?" I asked Peter after our meal.
"Listerine," he replied.
So neither of us is too sad that now, a week later, the ramps are too big and tough to eat. Like all of nature's gifts, their season is short. Which means that it's time to move on to foraging for fiddleheads!
And so the seasons go.