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Stinging Nettles: A Beginning

We each planted the seeds in the still-dark months of late winter. Almost a powder, so fine—it seemed improbable that anything would sprout; that any particles would find their way into the soil, to just the right depth; that they would not be washed away with even a gentle watering; that the growing lights we suspended above them could coax a green thread from those dark depths. But they did. Tentatively, the tendrils emerged, reaching for the light. Their first leaves unfurled, serrated and covered in a fur of silvery hairs, too delicate still to inflict a painful sting.

This was when our big yellow bus was parked outside the house on Rosehill Drive. We had driven her home through a Midwestern snow storm, and named her Bella. This was the beginning of Meadow Lark Farm Dinners.

When the last spring frost had passed, China brought her seedlings to our shared garden, and planted them beside mine. They looked improbable once again—such tender leaves in a soil expanse. Again, they grew. We craved their flavor—walnuts, grass, sheet metal. We foraged for nettles in the alleyways and cooked risotto on a wood fire.

Six springs have passed since then. Six seasons of farm dinners. China has moved away, sowing a new patch of stinging nettles in her Oregon garden. I’ve moved, too. I brought our nettles—by then merged into a single clump—with me: a shovelful from the old garden, planted beneath the window of our new home.

Just before the equinox, our nettles emerge as the first specks of green in barren ground. They appear with force, strong now. Their jagged edges warn us not to touch, for now they sting. They bow to the snow, and stand tall when it melts. In a few weeks, the first meadow lark will sing. I will snip the furry tops and melt them in butter. These are the first nettles, heralds of another spring.

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