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A SALAD TO REMEMBER

Written by Suzanne Miller

Journal, December 5, 1998


The day was so mild it hardly seemed like the first week of December. I decided to have a last look at the two garden plots I had tended in the community garden area behind the row of busineses just outside town, to the west of the Zionsville Fire Department.

The turn into the back drive was almost automatic so often had I arrived there with seeds, shovel, hoe, stakes, string, plants, watering wand, the tools and items carried at various times to enhance the soil and to fulfill the hope of abundant produce.

As May turned to June, the struggle with the clay soil surely did not compare with that of the seeds and plants. Then the torrential rains washed out a month's worth of growth in three front gardens, mine included. I replanted. It flooded out. Repeat. Only the marigolds of the Scout troop on the west persisted as the weeds took control. Their sunflowers finally sprang to life late September, October. Then someone lopped off their heads and there the stalks remained a final reminder of a lost cause. Our neighbor to the east, whose plot suffered most from the flood, left their tiller and spade as a testament to their effort as spindly green beans, the long kind, trailed across the hard ground as if searching for an oasis, for by now the hot dry days of August had baked the mud and cracked the surface.

Come next year...one experienced gardener had a brilliant idea to improve the soil and remedy our frustration. "Would the street department who gathered and shredded the leaves throughout the town in the fall, spread them on the garden plots?" AND..." would the department in charge of the plots plow them into the soil this fall and again plow the plots in the spring?" This was approved. I could almost feel the soil sift through my fingers as I contemplated next year (resolving to avoid the three drowned-out areas where the ground sloped catching the spill from the higher ground.)

Today, great piles of finely shredded leaves like giant ant hills lay spaced at each garden site. As I approached my garden plot I spotted the delicate leaves of fennel still green. How could this be possible? This was the first week of December. A month ago I thought I had gathered the last remnant, which were the okra pods I had left too long and were discolored from the frost and rain. The corn had been pulled and frozen ready for the Thanksgiving dinner. The green beans had been picked and enjoyed by me, the neighbors and rabbits. A bounty of green peppers was shared with my art class. The cucumbers are pickled . The tomatoes are juice. The zucchini is bread. The dill is dried and the zinnias recorded in photographs.

I gathered a bouquet of the feathery herb. As I looked around the barren sod and over a pile of leaves lo and behold were small bunches of lettuce, tiny leaves deep green and tempting, left over from a late planting. Enough for a salad. Yes! I will invite my good friend, Helen, to share it with me.

Once home and In the kitchen I carefully pulled the leaves from the muddy veined roots. The crinkled bright green leaves washed clean under the running water. Leaf after leaf piled into the drainer. How tender they look, how inviting. I chopped two carrots very fine. Three small green onions, tops and all. The end of a fresh cucumber. There were radishes still in a bunch; I pulled four and sliced them paper thin. I remembered the green peppers that have kept so well in the refrigerator. I chopped an entire pepper covering the growing salad like confetti. What else could I find as this was a day of discovery.

Ah, the seeds from a head of dill from the bunches dried and wrapped as they were ready. Add a scattering of pine nuts. Snip and add the anise-flavored fennel. The Ciabatta bread. Brown cubes in olive oil. Grate the Romano cheese. Add that. Is it ready? No. The dressing. Squeeze a lemon. Add oil. Pepper. Salt. Pour it all over this garden salad. Toss it with my hands. Remember the pleasure of spading the soil. Mark the row. Make a shallow path for the seeds. Water every day. Pull the weeds. See the Moon as it shines overhead until I can no longer see to plant or weed or water.

Today is the surprise of harvest thanks to the warm days given in late November, early December. Green left in the garden waiting for me to discover - to give me the pleasure of making this remarkable salad and being able to share it with a good friend. I give thanks to the good God above us all.

Suzanne K. Miller, 05/12/98

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Reprinted with permission
From "Paper of Peace" Ed. Maureen Butler quoting Garrison Keiller: "This year I hope you get something you didn't even know you wanted and give something you didn't even know you had."

It is our privilege to bring you this extraordinary account of a salad made with a total Zen joy. We thank Suzanne for sharing this journal entry.

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