Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Asparagus Patches

We who live in rural America, probably all remember some old guy who knew where the morel mushrooms grew and where to find patches of wild asparagus. These guys walked the timbers, eyed the ditches, and carried a plastic bag in their over-alls pocket.

We knew several of these nature sages, and the mere mention of their names could still to this day start a conversation that might go on for hours. They are the legends of our lifetime, the old men who knew their stuff, were stubborn as hell, and grew to local fame through their secretiveness. It's the grown-up version of "I know something you don't know!!!"

One guy in particular comes to mind. He kept his asparagus findings in a notebook. He counted the fence posts and how many feet from the fence lines it grew. This was light years before GPS and the "No Trespassing" signs. When springtime rolled around, he'd take his old Mercury and drive his asparagus route, and would return with sacks of the coveted sprigs, prouder than a peacock.

The first thing one might ask is, why didn't someone follow him? Well, that went against the grain of old-country respect. The community buzzed with curiosity, but still nobody trekked after him. Life was very different back then. Nature and its bounty was an incredibly important part of how men fed their families. I can't help but think the secrecy involved in finding food goes way back to the jungle warrior going out in search of food for the tribes. The search is as intriguing as the catch.

Now, in 2011, life in rural America is mighty different from when we were kids. Land is posted for people to keep out. No one is welcome anywhere. One time when we owned a precious piece of property in the woods, I went out for my favorite walk. Down the hill, around a corner, up another hill, and on toward the eastern sun. My heart fell into my shoe when a big old iron gate appeared in front of me with a huge sign that read, "Keep Out And That Means YOU!!!" Huh? What? You mean I can't continue my walk? The one I've done for years and years? I can't see the trees and the brush and the bunnies and the squirrels and the birds and the butterflies?

So, I had no choice but to turn myself around and walk back to where I knew I was welcome. On our property. The first thought that came to my mind was.....if my daddy would see this, he'd turn over in his grave. He grew up a quarter mile from this now "gated" place, and I felt his boyhood on the woodsy paths I walked. His little footsteps had been isolated by cold hearts. To this day, I still can't believe how nasty some people can be.

Well, that's the way life goes. I learned to accept as best I could what had changed in our precious place in the woods. There had been a violation that mattered to me. It was with shaking hands that we signed the deed to sell our property in the woods, but when we found two young men who are as close to us as natural-born sons, we knew they were the ones we would entrust our property to. It's the progression of life. Living proof that we really don't own anything on earth. We are given temporary custody, that's all. One can't help but feel sorry for those who selfishly put up fences, gates, and other barriers.

Till the day I die, my friends are welcome to come and sit on my porch, my lawn, and my livingroom. All I'd ever ask in return is respect. The kind of respect paid to the old guy with the notebook who knew where the asparagus grew.