Unexpected harvests: Grilled Asparagus with Sage Butter

In one year of my life I have felt the nervous rustle of joy that comes from seeing two little pink lines on an over the counter plastic stick, three times.  And three times I have felt the uncontrollable urge to free-fall that comes from losing them.  I've had three miscarriages over the course of one small year.  I've been hesitant to write about this - in fact, after my second miscarriage in December, I felt completely blocked, unable to find the words to express how I was feeling, and consequently unable to write about anything.  What I needed most desperately, was to just 'get on with it'.  "Get on with it" -- I've heard my Irish husband say it a thousand times.  But this was the one time I deeply felt the need to do so.  Intuiting and reaching further inside myself to find words to explain what couldn't be explained seemed futile.  So I got on with it.  I finally hatched the plan for a business I had been incubating for some time - I got excited, genuinely excited.  I gave the blog a makeover.  I made plans for our future that didn't revolve around where I might be when I was 9 months pregnant.  I had to.  Move forward.  Get on with it. This is not to say I forgot.  A woman never forgets.  Once in awhile I'd find myself paralyzed with overwhelming sadness, frustration, or anger -- or all of them combined.  I spent the morning of Mother's Day crying into the arms of my husband.  I made sorry for myself donuts, rich, old fashioned glazed chocolate cake donuts, and I ate two of them and cried some more.  I'm not sure if it was desperation, self-pity, or masochism that led me to then take a pregnancy test - earlier than usual.  This little outburst, however, was the third time that week I'd been deluged with a wave of unexpected tears (starting on the plane ride home from my sister's bachelorette after the flight attendant made me check my carry on bag...), so I suspected something might be amiss.  I peed on a stick like so many other times, looked away and asked the powers that be to please let me be pregnant and (I have learned to be very specific) to please let me carry this baby to term.  I looked down and saw nothing but the control line, all by itself.  Momentary hope fizzled -- I choked back a final tear and stood up to face the day.

As I got up, I couldn't help but peer closer.  There was a second line.  I angled the test into the light streaming into the window, and watched that second line as my hand shook.  On Mother's Day, I found out I was pregnant for the third time.  I called my Mom.  Despite my almost instantaneous anxiety about loss, it felt destined.  Who or what power would let me find out I was pregnant on Mother's Day and then let us lose it?

But we did.  This time even faster than the last.  One week later, on the morning of my sister's bridal shower, we lost our third baby.  I know you don't know what to say.  I don't expect you to know what to say.  People have told me I should be thankful I can get pregnant.  As if losing three pregnancies is any easier than struggling with infertility.  Both conditions are losses--losses of anticipation, expectation, desire, and control.  There is not one loss that is worse than any other.  But it's the loss of joy that hurts me the most -- all the excitement, and blissful naivete that accompanies a healthy pregnancy is gone - for good.  I am unblissfully aware that if I am pregnant, I could not be at any moment.  Pregnant one day, not pregnant the next.  I can't begin to tell you how that affects the psyche.  I often wonder if this is preparing an unprepared me for motherhood, for a life of worry.  But mostly I feel the weight of all the things misunderstood or incomprehensible in our world, and chalk this up to random, unexplainable suffering, common the world over.  Suffering we all live with, and in.  This type of suffering, however, we don't talk about -- we whisper about it among other women, and then we bury it.  

I have a friend who just suffered her second loss - she told me she feels like screaming on the rooftop to explain to everyone why she's unhappy- but instead, she carries her pain intimately, with a small group of people whom she trusts.  The world goes on around her, it undulates and whoops and wallops, but she doesn't go on, whoop, or wallop.  She spins, round and round and round with her pain.  Why is this so sacred and untouchable when it involves the most elemental experience of our being- reproduction?  How can something so important be so shameful and so hushed?  There is so much to talk about.

I could start by telling you about my faith and how this experience has shaken my very core.  I could also tell you how I feel guilty that my miscarriages have given me more time to focus on other priorities-- that I've actually grown, personally.  But this narrative is more than a story about repeated loss-- it's about patience, waiting, and growth, both minuscule and infinite.  And for this we have so many guides.  More than any one person, despite having so many wonderful souls in my life, my garden is my solace, my ever present shoulder and my perennial teacher.

I planted asparagus seeds in early April and waited with anticipation for them to push their ferny heads through the soil.  I waited several weeks -- more than enough time -- and nothing.  I watched those asparagus seeds like a hawk for 8 weeks - a lifetime in plant time.  Finally, with nothing so much as a dot of green showing, I reluctantly resolved to use the extra bed space for winter squash.  But on the ninth week, as I was setting out seedlings of Buttercup and Delicata squash, I saw the tiniest feather tip of green sprouting from the soil.  By the end of that week, a hair-thin blade had risen above the soil in several places, with wispy ferns at the tip.  My asparagus had risen, against the odds.  Hope.

But the waiting doesn't end there.  For an asparagus plant to get fully established for the long haul, it requires years of waiting before you can harvest even just a couple of  those ancient looking spears.  Amazingly, a well planted asparagus bed can last decades - each year sending up savory green flags announcing the beginning of spring, and later shooting several feet high into thick ferns that gather energy to push back down to the roots for the following year's crop.  This all may seem like a lot of waiting.  Waiting that requires loads of patience and multiple trips to the market for asparagus.

There is a reward.  And in our case I want to believe there is one as well.  Patience is a river, winding and undulating, ebbing and flowing, but it leads somewhere -- to its mouth, where hopefully, one day, it speaks.  The poet Kay Ryan, in her poem, my favorite, aptly entitled "Patience" says:

"Who would have guessed it possible that waiting is sustainable— a place with its own harvests. Or that in time's fullness/ the diamonds of patience/ couldn't be distinguished from the genuine in brilliance or hardness."

Patience is a difficult, sometimes heart wrenching lesson, and waiting can too often feel unbearable.  I know this, and we all share this.  But we continue to grow things, or try to, and perhaps we become better at waiting each subsequent time.  There are harvests to be had from this smattering of seeds we've planted--harvests, like the well planted asparagus beds, that will nourish, and feed us, for decades to come.

Grilled Asparagus with Sage Butter


Serves 6

2 pounds fresh asparagus, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Zest of one lemon

25 fresh sage leaves

Parmiagiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat outdoor grill or oven to 450 degrees.  Toss asparagus gently with olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.  In a small pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the sage leaves and cook until the butter begins to brown - a few minutes.  Stir in the lemon zest and a 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Remove from heat.  Grill asparagus directly on the grill until al dente (or roast in oven on a tray).  Remove to a platter and dress with the sage butter mixture.  Top with thin shavings of Parmiagiano cheese.  Serve warm or at room temperature.