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Walking Onions

"Walking onions" walk. Mom, never one to visit empty-handed, showed up with a muddy bouquet in a sack unasked for, unexplained. I liked the name. By the next year, or the next, or maybe the one after that, my garden had little else.


They walk by gravity. A green strap spears up—tall, more than halfway up the chicken wire—and the tip swells into a manila paper bunting of babies: bulblets with spears-in-waiting tiny as pine needles. The needles grow, bulblets fatten, and the collective family leans, creases and pivots to the ground. The babies root a foot or more from where they started, or tumble even farther. They walk, true to name. They take a step, and another, and so on across the garden into the grass.


Chicken wire is no barrier to a peripatetic vegetable.


They crowded the parsley, the chives, the basil, even the dumb chickweed and ground ivy, but at least I was growing something. And besides, they were from Mom.


They gave me a surprise, those onions, because of the paper wasps. One summer, I kept hearing something: dry, scratchy somethings. Curiosity finally pulled me from the hammock to the garden. To the walking onions. To the paper wasp on the paper of the walking onions. The wasp did not mind my giant face stuck up in its business of scraping paper. I could see jaws working the fiber, planing it top to bottom, not side to side; tucking it in a hidden cheek to fly back to the nest where it would spit a new wall, slobber a tight hexagonal nursery.


How I love being able to hear a wasp chew. I have a superpower.


Paper wasps were the only things that chewed those onions. They did not taste good raw, fried, marinated, grilled, souped, chived, baked or roasted.


I finally mentioned this to Mom.


She said that's why she got rid of hers in the first place.


And, apparently, why she walked them to me.

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and educator in Nashville, where she writes the urban nature blog Look Around: Nearby Nature. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Jewish Literary Journal, Killing the Buddha, GardenRant, Mamalode, Dead Housekeeping and The Fourth River.