Spring had arrived, the sun was heating things up, and it was time for my family to plant the garden. My mother wanted to put in yellow beans, which she’d never grown before. She carefully read the planting instructions, her eyeglasses balanced on the end of her nose, “Only plant in full, direct sunlight.” She looked up from the seed packet, surveyed the sky, the incoming clouds. It was nearing sunset and soon it would be dusk. So, my mother put away the packet of seeds to plant for the next day.
My grandmother, by comparison, was a bit more on point when it came to coaxing flowers and vegetables to grow. When I stayed with her in the summers, the first thing she did every morning after throwing on a robe and taking a cup of coffee in hand, was visit the backyard, enclosed by a tall, red painted fence, and spend what seemed most of the morning, watering, pulling odd, unwanted growths, and harvesting and communing with her lush and thriving garden. It was plain to see that she obtained an immense amount of joy from tending it. And even more joy from cooking and preparing all of her bounty. She also kept large, abundant indoor plants — ferns, palms, a monstrous jade. I once asked her what kind of magic she conjured to keep such flourishing plants. She said, “not magic, just water.” And since she knew that I couldn’t keep a cactus alive, she added, “They don’t require weaning.”
One of my good friends, Devon A. Mihesuah, is a gardening scholar. She has written award-winning books, is regularly featured in the New York Times, and gives talks and keynotes around the world about gardening, Indigenous food sovereignty and health. Her most recent book is “Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness.” She’s been at the helm of the Indigenous food sovereignty movement and educates people about pre-colonial food systems. Like my grandmother, she grows and stores food year after year, harvested from a well-tended, robust garden.
Despite my having such phenomenal role models, I’m my mother’s daughter, “Amelia Bedelia-ing” the seed package instructions, and weaning the houseplants. But, conversely, I love gardens. And botany is fascinating. I just don’t like the labor necessary to keep a garden. Not to mention the work involved with storing and preserving food.
My partner, Jay, likes growing things, and that’s always been a point of endearment to me. He staked out a small section in the back driveway of the property we rent. And saves seeds from the vegetables I buy from the grocery store. But his yields are small, because he eschews being orderly or meticulous about planting or tending. This spring he announced that he needed someplace warm and grassy to plant his seed. And then he was struck by lightning.
Lately, Jay’s been keen on making salads from dandelion greens he’s harvested from the yard. My friend, Devon, who spends hours foraging, advised that dandelion greens are optimal when still shoots, when young. I can’t eat them, myself. They are beyond bitter, and leave my tongue feeling as if it’s been assaulted.
I’m in the habit of posting low glycemic dishes on my socials. I joke that I’m writing a decolonial cookbook called “Hoka Hey! Today is a Good Day to Diet!” I’m inspired by all the Facebook photos from different friends harvesting mushrooms, nettles, spruce tips, fiddleheads and wild onions. And lately, I’ve been seeing articles about eating insects. People eat insects all over the globe, but I don’t think I’d like them. I can think of more creative ways to decolonize my diet. For instance, I practice decolonization by stealing from my white neighbors’ gardens — taking back the land one ear of corn, and one clump of dirt, at a time.
Midge is a citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and was raised by wolves in the Pacific Northwest. Her book of essays Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s was a finalist for a Washington State Book Award. She enjoys composting and frisky walks through dewy meadows. Midge lives in Moscow.