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Wilding: an 80th birthday poem for Joan Gussow

| 26 Feb 2013 | 03:22

“Dear Mom,” I should start—

But where should I start?

How to begin, on such a grand occasion?

Should I be high-flown or colloquial, or….

locavore-friendly, or Bush-hating, or just filial-jovial?

First, and plainly, congratulations are in order.

You married later than some, and well;

You produced two good sons and wrote a pair of enduring books—

one about a feeding web, the other about organic lives.

The husband and those sons were a handful, but you’ve survived!

Congratulations are in order.

Is it too late for a daughter?

A…very, very, very late autumn harvest?

I’m joking, mom! No harm intended.

I come to praise Joan, not recycle her—although recycling is of course a good thing and very much something I believe in, as any child of Joan is required to.

Here, in any case, and composted freshly for the occasion, is a poem:

One of my sweetest childhood memories is of wild strawberry picking expeditions, led by my fearless mom.

We’d gather our quart-sized pineapple juice cans—

we really did believe in recycling, way back then, because we were poor and used everything twice.

Cans dangling from twine looped around our necks, we’d walk out the driveway, cross Massachusetts Avenue,

and pick our way down Dead Man’s Gulch, as we called it, until we came out into a glade where the wild berries were.

Two boys and a mother crouched side by side at the start, then slowly scattered in pursuit of sweet red flesh.

The rule was: at least two went in the can for every one you ate.

I forget who made the rule.

Dead Man’s Gulch was where the mother and her boys, suburban, shared what counted.

Life in the sweet green wilderness that America once was, and still is, if you know where to look, and care enough to look.

Sassafras leaves stirring, the hum of early summer insects gearing up.

A quince tree with its weird pear-apple fruit. You’d read Stalking the Wild Asparagus

and could I.D. quince on sight. Your boys thought that was cool.

Thanks for the memory, Mom.

You gave your sons a great gift. They won’t forget.

Adam Gussow, for his mom Joan Gussow of Nyack, NY

Dirt featured Joan Gussow, known as the matriarch of the eat-local movement, as our “stud” in the September-October 2012 issue. Check it out at dirt-mag.com.