“These houses have been lived in recently,” Sariel told them in an excited voice. “Within the past few years.” She shifted the cooking pot so it rested on her hip. “Some of the houses might have gardens close by, with vegetables still growing. I have seen such things before. Let us look.”
Obediently, Chess and Ileana rose and started off together. Chess felt reluctant to leave his comfortable spot in the sun, but relieved to have a distraction from the unexpected situation of a few moments before. Venturing out among the overgrown grass and weeds of the neighborhood backyards, he started berating himself for what had been in his mind.
It was bad enough that he had nearly upset his relationship with Ileana -- she thought of him as her brother? He groaned inwardly. But what if Sariel had caught the two of them in an embrace -- what then? He shook his head in self-disgust, blindly wandering away from Ileana.
And what if Razor caught them? Relationships were not the only thing he had to worry about, out here, he reminded himself. They could be in mortal danger from so many things. He really needed to be more aware of his surroundings.
He tripped over some object, hidden under the weeds, and stopped, squinting around doubtfully. Ileana appeared beside him, then, completely unaware of the turmoil that she had started in him.
“I admire anyone who can grow a garden,” Ileana said, holding her hands out in a cheerful gesture of helplessness. “I tried to have one back at the college, but it was so much work.”
Chess fell into step with her. “College?” he asked, confused.
“Razor’s compound,” Ileana explained. “Didn’t you realize it used to be an old college campus?” She shrugged. “Anyway, there was a former garden area there already, so I thought it would be easy. Well, the garden quickly got overtaken by these awful rubbery weeds that would break off at the stem when you tried to pull the roots. I couldn’t do anything with them, they were everywhere. Razor would laugh at me, anyway, so, finally, I just let it go.” Chuckling softly, she took a few more steps, and then stopped abruptly. “Oh, here’s a garden, right there.”
Ileana pointed at a patch of greenery a few yards ahead of them, which Chess would never have taken for a garden. It was then that he realized that he had no idea what growing vegetables looked like. “Sariel,” he called, raising his voice. “Over here!”
“Oh,” Ileana groaned. “Yeah, but look: it’s covered with those same awful weeds.”
Within a few seconds, Chess saw Sariel coming toward them. With light steps, she easily negotiated the backyard obstacles. And, watching her hips move, Chess wondered how he could ever have thoughts about anyone else.
She was close to the garden when she suddenly gave an excited cry and dropped to her knees among the weeds. Chess and Ileana watched in amazement as she began tearing at the rubbery weeds and filling the cooking pot with them. Ileana shrugged at Chess, a perplexed smile on her face, just as Sariel glanced up. “These grow naturally in disturbed soil,” she explained. “Good for cooking. Also for treating insect bites and sores.” Then she frowned at them. “Keep looking,” she commanded.
As the two of them started off again, Ileana confided, “Well, it will be good to have something - anything - besides those nutrition bars.”
Chess nodded. “You need to eat more than that,” he agreed. “Are you a vegetarian?”
“Not really,” Ileana sighed, “but I can’t bring myself to eat a rabbit.”
“It would be nice to have something else to eat,” Chess agreed. “I’m surprised we haven’t found more canned goods in the houses. Maybe we should search harder --” He stopped talking as Ileana, looking suddenly wide-eyed, grabbed his arm.
“I think I hear an engine nearby,” she whispered. “We should probably move away from here.”
“Okay,” he agreed, after listening for a moment. They collected Sariel, with her bucket full of greens, and walked quickly into the relative shelter of the woods. Chess resolved to talk to Sariel about finding more that Ileana could eat.
Continued next page...
My Supervisor: Thanks for the tomatoes, we love them! But, uh, I thought you said you weren’t going to plant those purple cherry tomatoes again because you didn’t like them?
Me: Yeah, I didn’t plant them this year. They just grew back on their own. In fact, they’re coming up all over my yard now. Hey, you want some more?
Getting a bit off the subject of mythology, but staying on the subject of gardening: as we get deeper into the story - and deeper into the woods - I wanted Sariel to show off her knowledge of edible plants and, especially, her medicinal herb lore. However, although I kept borrowing the latest library books on all this stuff, I was never brave enough to try any of it, myself. Whether it’s home remedies made from garden herbs or the latest recipe for a nice dandelion stew, it all just looks like weeds to me. And if I can’t try them myself, I can’t really write about them with any authority, even though I have many favorable varieties growing in my yard: purslane, yarrow, sweet woodruff...
Purslane was the one that really surprised me. Ileana’s bad experience with gardening is mine: once the soil has been turned over, purslane appears. It grows thick and fast, and it is unusually difficult to pull out whole by the roots. Imagine my surprise when I saw a picture of this bane of my gardening efforts featured in a book about edible and medicinal plants. Purslane is not only edible, it is sort of a cure-all, alleviating everything from insect bite pain to gastrointestinal bleeding. Or so I read.
Gardening is interesting, if time-consuming. The plants seem almost to have their own personalities. Tomatoes, once planted in my garden, soon began to spring up all over my yard. (You can tell they are tomato plants not just by their appearance, but the leaves actually smell like tomatoes, which is pretty nice.) Beans, though, are by far the coolest vegetable to grow. At the height of their growing season, you can almost watch the vines uncurling and reaching out like mountain climbers for yet another place to grip. And if you guide the vines in a direction, they pliantly obey. If you spend enough time with plants, they can almost seem sentient. It is easy to understand how some primitive mythologies worshiped the life force of nature, itself.
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