“This is purselane,” asserted Aidan at lunch. “It’s a gween. That means we can eat it, even though it’s a weed. We can’t eat all weeds, just some of them.”
Purselane has thick, juicy stems and small, succulent leaves. It comes up mostly in the paths between the beds of the farm—as Aidan said, it’s a weed. He was eating a kind of fried salad, picking out the different components one by one with his fingers. He is two and a half, now, and just started talking really fluently, in complex sentences, a few weeks ago.
“Oh yeah? What’s that one?” asked Charlie. He was babysitting Aidan, as he often does.
“Um, that is an onion.”
“And that one?”
“That one is lambs quarters.”
“And that one?”
“Um, that one is sorrel.”
“Um, seep sorrel.” He meant sheep sorrel—and ‘sorrel’ actually sounded more like ‘soil,’ when he said it, but he was right about the species.
“And that one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Swiss chard. So do you like all of these greens?”
“I like them if I can have bread with them, the white kind. If I can’t have bread, then I don’t like them.”
Fortunately, lunch included crusty sourdough rolls, though I'd opted for raisin squash bread.
Charlie and I were having lunch together for the first time in months. We were indoors for once, because it had just started raining, and a yearling named Tom had joined us at our table.
"You know," began Tom, "four months ago I thought there was hardly anything to eat here."
"Hardly anything?" I asked. Obviously he wasn't being literal.
"I mean there didn't seem to be a lot of variety. No bananas, no oranges, no sugar cereal, no beef...."
"You must have felt so deprived," commented Charlie, heavy with sarcasm.
"Well, I kinda did. There were just vegetables and beans and things."
"Those are very big categories," Charlie told him.
"Well, I know that now. See, that's just it, though. I've never had half of this stuff before. I've never even heard of sheep sorrel before, and I didn't know you could eat purselane and galinsoga. We don't have oranges, but right now we have six different kinds of fresh fruit, all picked this morning."
"Seven, the early apples came in today," Charlie added.
The tally is blueberries, ever-bearing strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and now apples, in case you're wondering.
"Ok, whatever," replied Tom. "My point is, I don't think I've ever had so much variety to eat in my life. And half of it's weeds!"
"What's a weed?" I asked, thinking of Allen.
"A weed is a plant that nobody planted," Aidan put in."You have to pull them out, but you can eat them, sometimes."
"There are lots of plants nobody planted, though," Charlie said. "What about them?"
"Weeds are in gardens."
"So, a weed is a wild thing in a civilized place?" asked Charlie, addressing the group of us. "I guess that makes me a weed."
"Mama said gweens have vitamims," Aidan said, supplying a non-sequitur in place of a reply. I'm guessing he had no idea whatever what Charlie meant.
"I'd say a weed is a living thing that doesn't fit somebody else's plan," said Tom. "That makes all of us here weeds."