by Emily Brisse

In May of 2020, when the state of the shelves in the grocery stores was still unpredictable, when a garden seemed more essential than ever, I bought a Brussels sprout plant. It was three inches high. I hoped it would fit in the corner of the new pallet garden my husband and I had made. I knew nothing about pallet gardens or growing Brussels sprouts then. But I tended that little plant all summer and fall with an anxious hand: watering, peeling away yellowed leaves, whispering encouragements.

And then it was November. Election season. The world was sick and tired. In my garden, all my plants were either harvested or shriveled, mostly dug up.

All, that is, except the Brussels sprout.

The Brussels sprout stood green, even after several inches of ice and snow. It was beautiful, but small, the sprouts on the stem only pea-sized. And—as was so often the case that irregular, relentless year—I didn’t understand it, or know what to do with it, or have the time to figure it out.

And then it was December: more deaths reported in the nightly news, more infections—more, we’d later learn, than in any other month since the pandemic first began.

I looked out the window, tried to focus on what I knew—the history of the seasons—and how, as a northerner, the thought of growing much of anything had long since stopped making sense to me. So, on the day before the next freeze, when we finally swept the leaves from the deck and were trying to button up against the cold, I pulled out the Brussels sprout plant, still growing in that pallet garden, and tossed it with its cone of soil down the hill into the marsh behind our house, where I forgot about it.

A week later, my young son and I were walking down there.

It was a crisp bright day, the recent thin layer of snow shimmering under a weak sun. He was out of school on quarantine—a close contact of a classmate—and, as his that-day teacher, I’d given us the assignment of getting off screens, stretching our legs, putting some distance between us and the news and rules that kept changing. Solace could be found on a walk. Peace could be found on a walk. A realignment of what was good and bad and awful and unfair was sometimes as simple as gaining a new view. These were truisms I’d learned, that I hoped I could teach my boy, that I hoped he’d feel—although hope was turning more and more tenuous every day, a felt thing I was no longer certain I could offer him with the same oomph.

I was working out how to explain something of this to him, when he stopped mid-stride ahead of me, and said, “Mom, look.”

With my eyes, I followed his pointed finger toward where, resting among a few other dried grasses and stalks, in the spot where it had landed after I’d tossed it, rested the Brussels sprout.

The plant was still a deep and vibrant green, its leaves substantial and hearty: surprisingly, wonderfully beautiful. So beautiful that before I could stop him, my boy picked it up, tore off a top leaf, and ate it. “Mmm.” I could hear his back teeth crunching. “Delicious.”

I laughed. Do you know how good it feels to laugh in the cold, your breath visible around your face? That proof?

I took the leaf he held out to me, put it in my mouth.

We walked a bit more, turned our faces up to the sun—weak but not inconsequential—and then we brought that once-discarded plant inside, washed it, chopped off its leaves and pea-sized sprouts, and stirred them into that night’s soup: potatoes and carrots and celery and sausage, onion and garlic and thyme, and this—little pea, little leaf, our Brussels sprout, found. It was delicious—sharp and earthy and satisfying. We kept looking between the green on our spoons and the white and ice beyond the window, laughing.

I’ve since learned that Brussels sprouts grow in winter, that there are such things called winter greens that thrive despite the cold and dark and starkness of a world that can feel sometimes like it’s tipping away from the light.

But I didn’t know that then. That singular plant seemed, instead, like a small miracle, or a promise, or a reminder. Just before I’d dropped the leaves into the soup, I’d held one to my face. It felt like a hand on my skin, its slight rustle a whisper of something good.


Image by SAurabh Narwade via Pexels