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By a stream's edge


MY FOOT sank into the muddy edge of the stream as I bent to pinch a stem. "Here, try it. It tastes a little like pepper," I said as I handed it to my daughter.

It was one of the first warm evenings of spring, an invitation to investigate nature's rebirth. The awakenings seemed to spark memories.

After seeing the grimace on the face of my obliging daughter, I conceded that maybe the taste was meant for an adult palate. But the story of my mother's watercress would be hers.

I began to tell Mica of my mother's love of nature. I held her hand and told her of how her grandmother, on a trip to Virginia, had found the wild cress in a mountain stream. How she had wrapped the cress to keep it alive and had planted it in the shallow run that overflowed from our pond.

After testing the ground for dampness, we sat for a moment. I had to tell Mica of the first time I had eaten this strange, delicate plant. The sun was quickly losing its brightness, but I could still recreate the warmth of that long-ago day in Argentina.

I was 19 and pregnant with my first child. My parents insisted I needed a short getaway, or maybe they wanted an excuse to travel. We ventured north to the state of Cordoba, where the land is a mixture of mountains that grudgingly give way to flatter pampas.

On our second day, the hostel provided us with a guide. We headed into the mountains and made camp along the flat, wide bed of a stream. The guide came prepared to cook the asado, the native dish of Argentina, meat cooked deliberately over an open fire.

He left the fire long enough to explain to my mother what grew wild in the stream -- watercress. The adventure in my mother's soul peaked as she quickly gathered the salad for the asado.

Soon the meal was ready. Asado, bread, wine and the salad that now overflowed from a hat lined with plastic. We ate a meal that could not be compared.

Above, a condor flew so high that it made only a silhouette against the blue. In the open air, in the sun and in the shadow of my parents' love, I enjoyed.

Now, in Maryland, it was getting late, and Mica and I walked toward home. We were silent now. Enough stories. I remembered the cress in the stream that took three years to reappear. My mother died before the rebirth of her carefully planted seedlings.

Now, early each spring, there is a trip to the stream's edge, and from its water bubble forth stories of newly sprouted watercress, a mother and a grandmother.

Anita L. Tosti writes from Hampstead.

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