I have always been conflicted about the summer season while growing up in woodsy New England. Beaches relieve the mind, but the persistent grains of sand in my pockets and the painful slap of sun on my shoulders remind me to limit my beach days. Longer hours of sunlight are an objective win (more time equals more productivity, which, I’m sure, is something many of my fellow students also yearn for), but the prevalence of mosquitos combined with my unmatched and unwanted attention from them is less favorable. A break from school, another pro—even the Philomath in me can appreciate a chance to breathe and catch up to my own life.
Fruit picking, though, is the characteristic of summer that convinces me that these warm months are net positive. Although seasonal, cost-ineffective, and often buggy and sweaty, few activities rank as highly as fruit picking in my mind. It isn’t a particular liking for one fruit that draws me in. I’ll take anything: apples, strawberries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, nectarines, plums, cherries, or pears. Perhaps my fondness for personally choosing my fruit off their vines or bushes or trees arises from the positive memories I have from my childhood, but I cannot shake the certainty that this wholesome activity will live up to its own esteem time and time again.
For those who have yet to partake in any sort of fruit picking or have been unimpressed by the overrated apple season, let me attempt to convey the beauty in the simplicity of the activity. You arrive at the farm, you pick the fruit, and you pay for it. Yet somewhere between those concrete and mundane steps, there is a lifting of moods.
Something in its innocence promises enjoyment. While fruit picking, all that concerns me momentarily is finding the rounded, frosted, greyish bunches of berries that weigh down the thin stems and nudging the largest berries on the cluster, ready to burst from their own skins, into my bucket. They demand my attention and replace all other responsibilities with a need to taste two or twenty-five berries from each bush to make sure that they do not underperform compared to their neighbors.
Tasting, peering, reaching, nudging, examining, moving two steps to the right. Rinse and repeat.
Thus, when my mom rushed into my room the other night to announce that we were leaving at 7:00 am the next morning to beat the crowds at Parlee Farms on the opening week of blueberry picking, I set my alarms without question. At the farm, for a few fleeting moments, I didn’t think about the coronavirus and its accompanying suitcases of discouraging charts and stats and headlines. I didn’t unproductively fixate my thoughts on the uncertainty of the near future. Only hours earlier, I had been moping around about everything I would lose from my college experience, but all of that temporarily slipped away.
Maybe fruit picking can be compared with reading a good book or watching the sunrise. Activities so simple yet charged with the power to transport one’s mind. I don’t want to inflate my blueberry picking experience into a life-altering shift of perspective, but I do think that it grounded my day, maybe even my week. In a time where so many, including myself, are dejectedly accepting 2020 as a hopeless nightmare, picking blueberries with my family remains a gentle reminder that the world isn’t ending. Some things won’t ever be the same after this pandemic, but other things, the simple things, will always be here for us.
And, more importantly, as I conclude my experience with an appropriate batch of blueberry lemon muffins (recipe from Cookie and Kate), it reminds me to think of silver linings, to be grateful that I am able to pick blueberries during a global pandemic. Grateful for my health and my family’s, my life’s stability, my ownership of free time, my community. Grateful for my two eyes that can see, my hands that can touch, my tongue that can taste. For the farmers who plant, the bees which pollinate, the sun that energizes. Grateful for nature. For things that we can count on. For the security that no matter what happens, we can always come back home and pick some blueberries.