Rhubarb Pie

The rhubarb grew in the dirt along one side of our house. It came up year after year without fertilizer, pesticides, or anyone doing anything to it. The woman who took care of me until I was twelve years old made pies with this rhubarb. I wouldn't eat it, but everyone who did said it was good. This woman, a country woman from a tiny upstate New York village, picked a fruit that grew wild and made something delicious and nutritious from it. I didn't know it at the time but I learned a lot from this woman, whose name was Mabel.

She tended our garden and grew things that were both useful and beautiful. The Marigolds were natural insect repellants that protected the other flowers. Chives were a salad ingredient. Next door to us, the neighbors had a crabapple tree in their back yard where we kids plucked sweet sour snacks. Wild strawberries grew in an empty lot across the street. These were smaller than the store bought ones, but still tasty. As a kid, I seldom ate potato chips and/or soda. Between meal snacks grew outdoors.

Mabel taught me about honey and lemon and gingerale for colds and sore throats. About baking soda and vinegar to clear and clean a sink drain. She taught me the names of the wildflowers that grew everywhere in pre development upstate New York: Black Eyed Susans, Indian Paintbrush, Lady's Slippers, Buttercups, Queen Anne's Lace. Maybe most importantly, she taught me about acceptance and love. When she brought me with her to her family's home for a two week country vacation, she treated me exactly like a member of her own family, not a guest or visitor.

In those days, the natural world intersected our everyday lives. My father put mud on a painful bee sting and the pain stopped almost immediately. Small red wintergreen berries grew on bushes in the surrounding woods. They were crisp, slightly minty. Sometimes I gathered apples from a tree not far from our house and baked a pie. Dandelion greens, my father told me, went into salads made by my Italian grandma. No doubt it was more nutritious than the iceberg sold in supermarkets in those days. And though I never tried it, my friend Marla's mother told me about her recipe for a home made Dandelion wine.

These days few people have gardens. Growing a garden is a radical pasttime. People are too busy working for someone else, so they can pay a mortgage or rent, and keep the cable turned on. Of those who do have gardens, even fewer have gardens free from chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers. The soil has become contaminated, depleted of nutrients. You're more likely to eat organic food from super Walmart than from your own garden.

The way it is isn't the way it has to stay. We can change the world, one garden at a time.

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