This morning I laid a white sheet below an agarita shrub and shook the berries off with a broom to avoid the sharp holly-like leaves. An assortment of spiders and beetles accompanied the berries in falling. Afterward, I left the sheet out on the patio so the bugs could crawl away. In the before times, I wouldn’t have been able to identify this plant. I was so focused on the indoor world, on what was ready and convenient. But now I understand agarita’s berries, which remind me of granny smith apples, will make a lovely jelly if cooked. In these years of uncertainty and grief, there’s revelatory joy in identifying plants: to recognize what is edible and medicinal feels like a spark of power. 

My parents tell me that my grandmother used to confidently forage native plants to make foods like agarita jelly and chile pequin salsa before I was born. She knew how to gather what the land provided because knowledge was passed down from person to person. How strange that now I seek the same knowledge but find it in the glow of the Internet. The Internet which makes many things convenient, especially knowledge, is now helping me reconnect to nature. I can simply take a photo of a plant and Google will find a close match. I can read more about a plant’s medicinal qualities and history on numerous websites. I’ve spent almost three decades on this earth unaware of the wild abundance around me. What a gift to recognize it now when I see it. 

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More from our “In Praise Of” Series:

The Shadow Everything Casts, Brian Tierney
My VIDA T-shirt in Bright Blue, Julie Halebsky
Mixtapes, Dilruba Ahmed
Fences, Broken, Anthony Cody
The Variable Speed of Time, Ösel Jessica Plante
The Vase, Maw Shein Win

Laura Villareal

Laura Villareal is the author of Girl’s Guide to Leaving (University of Wisconsin Press, 2022). She has received fellowships from the Stadler Center for Poetry and Literary Arts and National Book Critics Circle. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, AGNI, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere.

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