I had thought my walk today would take place after a meeting I had scheduled downtown, but just before I was about to leave for the meeting, a crashing, whirling storm hit, and my meeting was rescheduled. The walk-to-follow became a casualty of the storm as well.
However, and LUCKILY, my mom was looking out for me earlier in the day. This morning I received a note from her asking me if I could “walk (!) to pick up some strawberries” for her. Yes, she included the exclamation point.
Later, she clarified (in case it wasn’t clear) that she just wanted to help me “get my walking in for the day.” I think this project thrills her. I told her I wasn’t sure that was really how this was supposed to work.
All of this was playfully tongue-in-cheek, of course, but I did in fact walk to the strawberry stand this morning, a round trip that was no more than about 20 minutes, including buying the last three quarts of berries they had and turning over the “empties” – cartons from purchases last week.
The walk was short and to the point, and focused me particularly on stories and thoughts related to the stand and the adjoining U-Pick patch. Perhaps given the trigger of a note from my mother, the stories all seemed to revolve around family. So thanks, Mom, I got it done!
Two days ago, I walked by the field in the evening, and there were several families standing around, chatting in the shade. I don’t know if they were working, just there to keep an eye on the fields after hours so no one would try to steal a few; or if the stand was actually still open that late in the day; or if they were just hanging around because they were in the neighborhood and it was a nice place to chill out.
Some families are generally seen only at organized events, or they invite neighbors over in the privacy of their back yards, or they get babysitters when they go out, or one parent takes the kids (or stays with them at home) while another parent hangs out with peers.
Other families, like this one, hang out in groups of men and children, or women and children, or sometimes men and women and children all together. The kids go where the adults go, and they all hang out together.
If someone in my family had been working at the stand, the rest of the family probably would not join that person. And if at least one of us wasn’t working there, we probably wouldn’t choose that place to hang out. But what fun they looked like they were having – kids running after each other, men leaning against trucks and talking, a few women chatting in the shade. Part of me wanted to find an excuse to wander over and say hi.
Last week, I took out-of-town visitors, a family who had never picked berries before, to the strawberry patch, and I suddenly became aware of unstated expectations in a place where everyone is assumed to know the rules. Those of us who grew up picking berries know that when we are told, “Start picking at a flag; put the flag down where you stop,” that means clean the bushes of all edible berries (don’t leave the ones that don’t look good to you to just rot on the vine!), don’t jump between rows (otherwise the person coming down that row later won’t have as many good berries to choose from), don’t pick ahead of where you ultimately leave your flag, and if your kids (or anyone else in your party) don’t know the rules it’s your job to teach them.
Unfortunately, if you’ve never picked berries before, you probably won’t be told this directly, because everyone assumes you already know. Inadvertently, they’ve set you up for raised eyebrows and irritated muttering from your berry-picking neighbors.
The experience made me think about how community understandings can be passed down through generations with little verbal articulation and an assumption that “everyone knows” how to do things, and how those things can be experienced as foreign, surprising, and even jarring or unwelcoming to newcomers.
Speaking of passing things down through generations, I remember picking berries as a kid with my grandparents. In my opinion, it was way too early in the morning to be up, it was really hot and tiring, and I usually got bored long before we were allowed to stop.
And yet, picking berries is a nostalgic memory for me. I remember wearing hats to block the sun. I remember dew on the plants. I remember sneaking juicy berries into my mouth when I thought no one was looking. I remember standing up to stretch, looking around the patch at other families picking. I remember contests to see who could pick the most. And I remember the strawberry shortcakes and strawberry jam and freshly cut berries on our cereal once we got back home.
This week I’ve had strawberry pie, cold strawberry soup (a delicious dessert!), strawberry bread, strawberries on salad, and strawberries on pancakes. How lucky am I, to have such easy access to such riches, within 10 minutes walking?
I have seen kids at the patch, each with their own little zip-lock bag, an outing for a day camp, perhaps. I have seen 4-year-olds being taught how to choose the berries, and dedicated women in floppy hats picking for hours as if all this harvest was all they were going to eat for the next three months. I have seen the laborers, toiling away in the hot afternoon hours after the u-pickers have all gone home for the day.
The strawberry patch. A community hive of connections.
Later, after the storm subsided, I headed out for another walk in a different direction. It was a little longer, a little more meandering, with less purpose.
Discovered on my walk, part 2: One third of a neighbor’s tree downed, smashed onto their driveway. Mosquitos. Ducklings. A chorus of frogs. A hidden path I hadn’t known was there, even though I have walked past it multiple times. The humidity returning. Light starting to peek through branches.
And other people, wandering out like me, into the freshly washed world.