Once spring has officially sprung—the equinox is past, the fruiting and ornamental trees are in peak bloom, and the days are consistently warm—my partner and I take walks in the woods near our apartment, checking the undergrowth’s many stands of Allium tricoccum for their bounty. Difficult to spot most of the year, these early shoots of green are among the first things to grow in the shade of the trees, shrubs, and wild raspberry vines. It’s a kind of ritual for us, part of our desire to get out of our one bedroom apartment and let the longer days and surer sunshine lift us out of our winter SADness.

On each walk, we reacquaint ourselves with the spaces where we live. We recall which unassuming shrubs pop with bright yellow blossoms before changing their adornments into more sedate green leaves, which trees are ornamental cherries and apples, how far the elderberry near the chicken coop has spread. And in the yet sparse undergrowth beneath the mostly bare trees, we look for the broad, smooth leaves of the wild ramps (also called wild leeks) and see how large they are, how the stands have spread or been removed in places we walked last year and the year before.

For all this walking, checking, and reacquainting, it’s only once or twice each spring that we harvest any leaves (snipping one leaf each from plants that have at least two leaves to start), and when we do, it’s only a few per large stand—though after every walk we do diligently check ourselves for ticks. A large area behind one of our apartment complex’s dumpsters has been mostly destroyed due to construction work over the past year. We walk around the perimeter, pointing out the oval leaves with their faint central magenta stripe to family members visiting from out of town, only taking one leaf from a plant with three to share between us.

For those looking to learn and harvest well from the places where they live, @blackforager is the delightful and informative IG account of Alexis Nikole Nelson, who reminds followers in one of her posts about ramp season that those of us who don’t have cultural connections to ramps like the Menominee, Cherokee, Iroquois, Potawatomi, and Ojibwa nations and those who currently live in Appalachia should be very sparing with how many of these delicious leaves we harvest. She also shares her autumn practice of spreading ramp seeds so that stands will continue to thrive and recover from harvesting and over-harvesting as humans search after the delicious leek/garlic flavour.

I admit, during this year’s first harvest, I had to hold myself back from taking as much as I wanted in deference to the needs of the plant. As fortunate as I am to live near so many, I have to remember to leave plenty of leaves to allow the plants to photosynthesise—and to allow others to harvest, too. Neither the plants nor the woods belong to me, and my actions affect more creatures than just myself and my dinner guests.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer outlines the ethos of what she calls the Honorable Harvest. In a chapter titled “The Honorable Harvest,” Kimmerer writes, ‘Whether we are digging wild leeks or going to the mall, how do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?’ As an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer has a particular relationship to Allium tricoccum that is different from mine. Nevertheless, she instructs and encourages readers who, like me, might be white settlers with far more recent and tentative relationships with the native plants of Turtle Island to cultivate this ethos as we move about our daily lives. ‘We each do what we can,’ Kimmerer writes. ‘The Honorable Harvest is as much about relationships as about the materials.’

By opening up space within myself to care about the ecosystems that sustain me and help me to flourish, I become more attentive to how I can limit my desire to honour the limits of the creatures around me. Rather than only looking for ramps when I’m in search of a garnish for my dinner, I can pay attention to where they live and how they’re doing from season to season—and what they might need from me to support their recovery in places where clearing has eliminated them despite the trees’ return.

Last season, my partner used our harvest to make ramp butter, which we then froze so that we could enjoy the plant’s mild garlicky taste all year on bread or as a cooking fat. This season, we’ve been searching for recipes in order to pick one that will showcase the delicate flavour for a special occasion. Whether we’re harvesting or not, these walks in the place where we live give us a greater appreciation and sense of rootedness in the place where we’ve been transplanted for this current season.

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