It was another beautiful, clear, breezy day, the kind that reminds you to be in love with life. Our friend Elizabeth was coming to have lunch and we couldn’t bear to be inside, so my daughter and I had decided that the only thing to do was to take a picnic to one of the most beautiful spots in the city, the Bishop’s Garden at the Washington National Cathedral. It’s a special place, nestled in the hillside below the south entrance and directly in the shadow of the 300 ft. Gloria in Excelsis Tower. I hadn’t been there in quite a while, our friend had never been there and the day was perfect for it.
We’re in the shift now, those weeks when the light begins to pierce the summer haze and belies the still long, hot days. There’s the hint of change– a slight coolness in the morning, the full chorus of katydids and crickets at night.
When I was a child, these were the days that held the excitement of waiting to see which teacher I would have for the coming year. There would be a postcard in the mail a week or so before Labor Day, addressed personally to each child and filled in appropriately on the back. The scene played out pretty much the same all the way through elementary school–something like this.
“Dear Mary,” it said, my name carefully written into the blank, in what appeared to be the teacher’s very own handwriting. “Welcome to the second grade! I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday, September 4th in room 104. Sincerely, Miss Britten.”
Miss Britten! That’s exactly who I’d wanted! I ran to the phone to call my best friend Alison–246-4622. Busy! I called back. Busy again! We wanted to be in the same class so bad we couldn’t stand it. We had different teachers the year before and if we weren’t together this year, I just didn’t know how we were going to go on! I called again. This time it rang…and rang and rang. Finally, her little brother answered.
“Is Alison there?” He dropped the phone, like he always did and yelled out for her. “ALISON! AL-I-SON!!! I waited, impatiently, while the phone clunked against the wall, wondering where on earth she could be. Then the doorbell rang and I knew. I flung open the front door and there she was. She was breathless and red faced from running all the way over.
“Who’d you get?”
“Miss MOORE? Oh nooooo! I got Miss Britten!” We stared at one another, utterly crushed– for a few seconds at least.
“Well, you’re lucky!” Alison said. “She’s the pretty one– Miss Moore is mean!” I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to gloat.
“I hope we have the same lunch,” I said. “…and we can walk to school– every day!” She seemed resigned. Together we bemoaned the cruelty of the invisible decision makers that had kept us apart once again, went to look at my brand new saddle oxfords and then shared a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cake that had been hidden in my underwear drawer, out of the greedy reach of my two hungry brothers who between the two of them and their friends would polish off a whole box during one episode of the Andy Griffith Show.
Later we went outside, where the afternoon was waning. We laid in the cool grass and looked up through the trees while the dogs came and sniffed all around us. The light was slant and sharp and where it fell, charged the leaves with a burst of brilliant white. For those moments we didn’t need any words, because our hearts we were so full of expectation, and the air was shimmering with change.
One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go picking. Picking for what is actually not that important. I just love, love, LOVE driving out into the country on a beautiful day, spending a couple of hours in the open air and sunshine and coming away with something as delicious and fresh as it gets. If I traced my lineage all the way back to a hunter-gatherer society, it’s pretty obvious to me how my forebears earned their keep.
Don’t worry, I’m strategic. I watch the weather and wait for the cooler days, go early, wear a hat and sunscreen and don’t stay too long. It isn’t hard to do that with most of the crops. You have a window of several weeks to go get cherries, peaches, and blackberries and the farm is open on weekdays. Not so for blueberries. There’s only one blueberry farm I know of within a reasonable distance and they only open about four weekends in June and July. If you’re not paying attention it’s easy to miss them, like I almost did this year.
Back in the spring, I had looked them up and noted the first picking date for the year, but I couldn’t go that weekend, or the next. Thinking I still had at least a couple of weeks left, I called yesterday for the recorded message that gives the update, open and closing times, etc. I was alarmed to hear that because of all the snow this year, the season had started early and was already in its last week. On top of that, because of the recent hot weather and lack of rain they were only going to be open Sat. morning until 11am, then closing for the season! Thank goodness I had called! At least I hadn’t missed it completely. I set my alarm and planned for an early AM departure.
Sat. 7AM; RAIN! The first in weeks, literally. I had practically forgotten what it was like. So much for my morning of sun washed, berry picking revelry. This was no summer shower, either. Raining cats and dogs, as the saying goes. Well, to heck with the rain. Blueberries called! My only concern was that they wouldn’t open the gates, thinking no one would come, but I didn’t slow down long enough to think much about it. I was out the door the second the coffee was done dripping, cruising down River Road in a good old fashioned gully washer.
The blueberry farm is about 45 minutes from my house in DC, a virtual planet away. How is it that a few minutes in the car could transform my surroundings from the close quarters of an urban neighborhood to acres and acres of wide open farmland, with miles and meadows and entire crops between houses? Hopefully, I pulled up to the farm gate. YES! It was open. I drove down the long dirt driveway to the barn, parked the car and went in to pick up my bucket. It was still pouring.
“Am I the only one?” I asked. He nodded. Well then, fine. Having twenty acres of blueberries that had been ripening for a week all to myself was not a bad thing. In fact, it was heaven-blueberry heaven.
The bushes were bursting with big, ripe juicy berries. Had the full night of rain plumped them up to the point that entire handfuls were falling into my pail as fast as I could move down the rows? I don’t know. I’m not a blueberry farmer. All I know is that I was under a spell, a spell of big sky, wide open fields, the bluest, most abundant blueberries that God ever created and a mesmerizing silent, summer rain.
Two hours and eighteen pounds of blueberries later, I was literally dizzy with picking. The rain had stopped. The air was gentle, breezy and cloudy, bearing no resemblance to the brutal summer days earlier in the week. I could have stayed all day, but I had to quit. They were closing-for the whole season! I reluctantly made my way back to the barn. Every bush I passed along the way called me with like a siren, a ripe, fruity temptation. But I had enough, truly enough.
God, thank you for this day, this air, this rain, these berries. Thank you for the space, the time, the sky, the blue-the blue of the fruit, this blueberry heaven. Thank you for this most abundant, radiant, joyful, succulent life. My blueberry bucket runneth over. Amen
It’s hot here in DC-really hot. It’s so hot nobody goes outside. Moms take their kids to the movies, or day camp, or a friend’s house. When they get in the car they have to wait for the air conditioner to cool it enough just to sit. The seats are like a stove top. Within minutes their sweaty thighs are sliding all over the vinyl, their brows damp. They need juice, or something. Mom is sweating too, even with the AC on full blast.
Commuters idle at stoplights, listening to NPR, sweltering through the news. The lights are long, just like the days. Mornings are like an oven, but when the sun goes down it’s a sauna. The whole town is baking, brains are basting in all the bad news; the oil spill, Afghanistan, unemployment, Barack Obama-superman, super HOT! Michelle wore a cute top on the 4th, red, white and blue-what else!
The animals know just what to do—nothing. The dog barely touches breakfast and lies on the tile floor all day, answering to no one. The cats- well, the cats get looonnnggg on the dining room table, making as much room as possible between all the hairs of their fur coats.
Transformers are popping all over. The power company is knocking on doors. “Do you have electricity?” The air conditioner is back on-thank God. This is a gift. After a day and a half, it mysteriously switched on in the middle of the night, as if by divine intercession.
“Thou shalt have AIR.”
The flowers stand in silent, heat induced shock. Valiant efforts with the garden hose keep them upright. Rain is a foreign concept. I think I remember what it was like…maybe.
The sky is a relentless blue, the sun unceasing, the clouds few and far between. The breeze is welcome, even if it feels like opening the oven door- at least it’s moving.
As evening approaches, the crickets chime in on cue. July flies don’t hold back. It’s their time. “Screeeeee, Screeeeeeeee!” The mosquitoes are undaunted. Business as usual.
We give up on the patio and eat supper inside. Not much- a cold salmon salad. It occurs to us that the elements are winning, once again. Six months ago, it was four feet of snow outside our door, the car encased in ice, the road impassable, the furnace groaning to keep up with the mercury dive. Same song, second verse… a little bit louder, a little bit… worse? Can’t say for sure. Check back January.