Just beyond our kitchen garden’s box frame, last year’s oak leaf & butter lettuces have seeded themselves inside the cowlick of grasses, growing in patches of ruffled leaves that haven’t yet been found by nightly foragers that emerge from the woods when our houselights have been snuffed out and the expanse of yard is full of ghostly blue light. There, beneath the sycamore’s shadows, we see them moving, snouts down, grubbing for whatever is tender and ready to filch, without any concern for the mess that they will leave.


So, stooped over in morning’s intervention, I begin to tease the delicate lettuces from their toeholds, and stick them back into soft soil, hoping to keep them steady in the shock of settling back down in this woozy profusion of herbs, and cloud of peas, and garlic with scapes, twisting into treble clefs. I think I am clever, saving this wild spring mix from its fate—melting in the mouths of skunks that are known to binge eat whatever they like until they’re good and sick of plenty.


Aplenty is exactly how things grow here. Spring to autumn, the land yields to our constant poke and pinch, until it’s time to pick; and, in that moment, we realize we no longer have to buy a triple-washed bag of lettuce, that’s $9.64 per pound. Everything we need for a fresh salad is found in a quick two-step out the mudroom door onto the porch, where we skip down a short set of stairs; then take the shortcut to the kitchen garden, where we think that all of this is more or less free; but, of course, it isn’t. It’s the price of being organic, which is more or less, letting God decide.


Has God been good to us? He sent us a vision of what the garden should look like—much like the glossy seed catalogs that come in the mail; and, we swoon over every fruit and vegetable’s perfection, imagining that is what we deserve. After all, we’ve worked hard to contain anything that could be menacing in a green world. We want to say we have control over what happens here.


Still, it’s difficult to control “volunteers” that pop up every year, like unexpected guests. What to do? Do we pretend that they aren’t there, growing double the size of veggies started in the greenhouse? Do we make room, knowing they are the memory of last year’s heirlooms? Are we inherently greedy, quoting the adage, possession is nine-tenths of the law? In truth, how different are we from a family of scavenging skunks? We both want our fair share.

M. J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 31 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

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