Fermentations, Ruminations & Meditations
It’s been a bright, bountiful summer and yet, with a slight tilting of the earth, it seems to be quickly falling into a new season. This is a wool sweater morning. The sky is cloudy and concerned. The calendar is edging towards September.
But yesterday evening, I found a place where summer is still abundant. Where the collected sweetness of the light and heat of the season hangs in heavy clusters and you can still dream that nothing matters but eating fruit. Where you can still pretend that you are really only a hungry animal. Where you can still believe that there will be enough…
The blueberry field.
We bought this farm ten years ago because of the berries. Well, in large part because of the berries. In high school I had written a short story called “Adventures on Blueberry Island,” printed in blue ink to charm my English teacher, about a girl’s journey to a place where the berry bushes towered like turrets in a magical fruit palace and the blueberries fell like enchanted rain. I cannot be sure if that story was inspired by my memory or my imagination, but it established me as a blueberry fanatic; and, like children in a fairy tale following a trail of bread crumbs through the forest, I followed a trail of blueberries to this farm.
Lige and Kay, our friends, neighbors, and berry benefactors, planted 2,000 berry bushes, from over 10 varieties, in the lush, valley bottom soils of Center Valley in the late 90’s. When we purchased the farm from them, we felt like we had re-discovered paradise. Of course, in the stories, no one mentions the mighty time and effort required to keep paradise pruned, mulched and picked. Over time, a community of farmers has gathered here to do the work. The fruits of that labor ripen every July in the high-acid, moist, peaty earth in this valley.
This is a perfect place for blueberries and the bushes have mostly thrived over the years. But grown organically, threats such as fruit flies and fungus require intensive and careful management. Some years the fruit set is spare due to poor weather and opportunistic spores. Then we get cranky and feel the loss of fruit, joy and income from the field. Other years, the conditions align for great berry abundance and both our harvest and our gratitude abound.
This is one of those good seasons. There is a bluebundance of berries!
Last night, after a dinner frittata, our family went down to the berry field. We could hear voices deep among the bushes and we set out to find our farmer friends, working late to fill buckets for market. Finding them was easier said than done. It’s not a large field, only about two acres, but this season the growth has been grandiose. It’s been epic. Where before you could amble through the rows like a civilized bear, now you have to embark on a bushy, branchy obstacle course.
Our friends were picking in the Brigittas, a plump and beloved berry variety here. But a dense tangle of berry-laden branches blocked the way. We had to crouch and crawl and play a sort of vegetative version of the classic pool game Marco-Polo in order to find them. Hello? Here! Hello? Over here! Where? Here! Then there was a sort of awkward yoga moment when I had to lift my legs over the irrigation hose but duck my head under the bushes. I struggled and stretched and squirmed under and through bushes until, finally, with a bit of huffing and puffing too, I glimpsed some friendly feet a few rows over.
A joyful mouthful of moments followed. Friendly voices weaving between bushes. Happy hands reaching out to clutch heavy clusters of berries. Little boys short enough to shuttle buckets back and forth under the foliage. My belly filling with antioxidants and beneficial anthocyanins generously packed into low-glycemic but still super sweet blue balls of food.
After a while, a reluctant but undeniable full feeling came over me, followed by a slight claustrophobia. In the green thicket, I could not even see the person picking two feet from me. I felt a strong instinct to emerge, an impulse to evolve from ursine to human and to walk upright once again. I crawled out of the berry jungle, lugging a full bucket with me, listening to voices recede back into the green-blue depths of the field.
A friend asked me on my way out, “Do you ever stop to think that this is your dream come true?” I do, I tell her, pausing to pluck one more ripe berry, I do.