When I was in my twenties, I lived in a cabin on a small, forested island called Lummi. The cabin sat on a spit, a small stretch of beach pointing out into the icy waters of Washington’s Puget Sound. I spent a lot of time on that spit of sand propped on beached logs reading books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the Tao of Pooh.
It was in that book I first learned the notion of effortless effort. I appreciated it intellectually, but it took twenty years to internalize wu wei–if I have at all.
That understanding of living in harmony occurred just the other day in my garden, which I am trying to whip into shape after a few years of neglect. Some days in the garden are blissfully easy going, but I had an agenda. So, instead of wandering thoughts, I had a list of to-dos in my head, my plan of attack after I turned over the soil and worked in the compost.
We all do so much striving. To eat better, to get in shape. I strive to clean the house, stay on top of the laundry and put it away. I strive to be a good Mom. I strive to become a better writer. I even strive to meditate, which may be why it happens so seldom. (Those are the privileged types of striving, and I am thankful that I have enough food for my family and a comfortable home in a good community–none of which I take for granted.)
In the strains and sweating to weed and ready my beds for planting (even at this elevation, I’m a little late to get in the carrots and beets and broccoli), I noticed that there was already food growing there. It wasn’t just the spinach that overwintered and was starting to put out new leaves, but a stately stalk of nettles overhanging them.
I was just about to cut it down, too, so that I wouldn’t get stung by the serrated leaves. But I remembered the forest of alders just beyond my cabin on the island where the spring nettles grew and how just a little bit of heat disarmed them for eating with pasta or with an over easy egg on toast.
I left those nettles standing and with new eyes approached the compost bin where a crop of chickweed with its tiny emerald green leaves had sprouted. In front of the bin, the whirls of dandelion leaves stood untrampled. Dandelion leaves are the least bitter when the plants are young in early spring. In their shaded spot, those dandelion greens were at their prime.
The best surprise of all the foods growing without any effort from me in my garden was a single chervil plant. I recognized the lacy leaf and stalk no thicker than a thread of this delicate herb. I plucked it and ate it right then and there. As the mild anise taste of this carrot relative faded, I hoped that another one would grow in its place and that this knowing–of how things fall into place–would stay with me back into the house and infuse this crazy time of book promotion and touring with a sense of ease.
With that, I stopped my labors and gathered all those greens, went into the house and made a most effortless and simple supper.
Here are my 5 favorite ways to enjoy gathered greens (sauteed in olive oil with garlic and red pepper flakes):
- Over a bowl of leftover brown rice with a fried egg
- In an omelet with a glass of white wine
- With goat cheese on toasted country style bread and lots of cracked black pepper
- Over polenta with shaved parmesan cheese
- In a quesadilla with salsa verde