It’s just before twilight. The sky has been a brilliant clear blue all day, and now as the sun begins to set, the golden rays run slowly, carefully down my back. My face is shaded by my big brimmed sun hat, and my loose tank criss-crosses over my shoulders, leaving them exposed to the heat of these last rays. My legs are mostly bare, beneath my grey cotton shorts, and my sandals flip and flop as I walk the path to one of my favorite places on this whole, wide earth. The blueberry field.
The field sits now behind newly constructed houses. On a cul-de-sac, placed on this land only a few years ago. But this land once belonged to my family, my great-grandparent’s farm stretched through this road, and these yards, with their swimming pools, fences, and driveways. I boldly walk past one such driveway, and duck behind one such fence, battling through the high weeds, wild flowers, and thorn bushes that attempt to keep this place hidden. Power lines tower high above my head, a quite hum, not readily audible streams from them.
Once I am past the watchful weeds, the land opens up and humbly displays its beauty. To my left is pile after pile (not neatly arranged rows) of low, meandering, blueberry bushes, their royal blue bounty sheepishly peaking from under green leaves. My container in hand, I find my first spot, crouch down low in a deep squat, place the plastic quart by my feet, and begin to pick.
As my fingers slowly gather bunches, turning over leaves and branches to find the shy fruit, my heart settles into this place. I think of the many times I have come here, once this year already, with my mother and son by my side, his first lesson in the art of picking. We picked, he happily ate.
This place feels deeply rooted in my soul, or maybe my soul feels deeply rooted in it. The house my grandmother grew up in with her five brothers and sisters is just yards away, behind trees, facing the road. Her parents were Italian immigrants, they settled here, and they worked this land. She would later meet my grandfather, get married, and build a house just yards away from here, on the same road. She raised her three daughters here, and ever since I was a little girl, when we would visit her in the hot summer months, she would tell us to come pick blueberries in this field, and then race back to the house to cool off from the hard work in her swimming pool. My mother showed me this place, I don’t remember exactly when. Now she is the one who lives in my grandmother’s house. She is the grandmother. And we still come, to pick blueberries, in this field.
Right now I am here alone. But my heart is filled with these memories, these stories, and though my grandmother has passed, and I don’t remember her ever coming out to the field to do the hard work with us, I feel that she is here with me now. I feel that she is here, looking over my shoulder, as I guide one hand carefully into underbelly of the bush, and gently push blueberries from their stems, letting them drop into my other hand which is cupped open, ready to receive them. The work is a slow, rhythmic meditation. I marvel how hands kept busy, allow my mind to come to rest.
I slowly fill my cup.
This land. These berries. The rich memories of my grandmother, and her family, my family, whom I never knew. My feet steady as I bend and reach, squat, and step. The warm sun on my back, beginning to drop below the trees. Here I am connected. Here I am part of something larger. Here my body, my mind, and my soul all work together. I feel richly abundant as my eyes drift over the bushes, bursting with blue, so many berries I feel as though I could be sustained forever. This place has changed. The land is different. The bushes are plentiful, but they are fewer.
In my heart, this place will sustain me forever. My son will learn to harvest these very berries, with his own hands one day. My grandmother will look over his shoulder, my mother will invite him back to the cool relief of her swimming pool, and we will all feel the warmth of late summer sun, together.