Saturday, November 12, 2011

for new book: Berries


Firethorn (Pyracantha) grow in my mother's front garden. These very old shrubs bear dense garlands of red berries, cascades of fire orange and red in the winter. It is an event when the Cedar Waxwings: the little birds with cap, black mask, and yellow belly, come in flocks to feed, to literally devour the berries.
In the fall in my woods, there are a few berries: red bunches at the tips of the Honeysuckle vines, some red on the Toyon, and the celebrated berries on the Madrone – each resembling a spherical strawberry, fire-red. The tree I notice is below me so that the crown of the tree is visible. It looks like a huge red and green bouquet. The berries of the manzanita are dry and brown in fall (but they make delicious tea). They are inconspicuous, unlike their spring blossoms that smell like honey.
In summer, we all experience the indomitable blackberry. Delicious as they may be, they are invasive. They were introduced centuries ago, and they have naturalized to the west coast – and beyond. But who is complaining about a plant that provides food and cover for wildlife, and a taste treat that is at once sweet, sour, bitter, and earthy like the plot in which it grows . . . though they are somewhat treacherous to pick, thorned as they are and growing in company with poison oak and stinging nettle.
I have a hate-love affair with blackberries; they attack when I try to control them on my land, and they harbor the berries in thorns - but a just-ripe berry is heaven. Besides that, in summer, they have a scent that makes the air smell wild; it is leafy, woody, sweet – it makes me happy – that scent – because it is the scent of summer, of summer energy.
As an adult, I go berry picking. As a child, I went cherry picking – in an orchard. What a bonanza: all the cherries one could eat while sitting in a tree like a bird with a view of endless cherries in endless trees.
Cherries have always had a special significance for my family. In season, guests in-the-know bring cherries, and they always announce the cherries instead of themselves: “I brought cherries!”
Long ago, and far away, I went blueberry picking in a national forest in the Catskill mountains. We were run off by a wicked guy with a shotgun who insisted that we were picking his berries. In Alaska, I was not game for competing for blueberries with grizzlies.
Strawberries: I grew five rows of them once, but wondered why the ripening ones disappeared. I blamed the disappearance on raccoons until I went out one early morning and discovered my three year old daughter helping herself to strawberries. Picture this: a night gowned, barefooted three year old, an Oakland foggy dawn, boldness, secretiveness, and love of strawberries. I dream of an infinite field of strawberries, rows and rows and rows, vanishing into distant mountains. There are such places.   

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