By Ann Bodle Nash
It is summer. Hummingbirds flit from potted flowers to backyard flowering blackberries that form a hedgerow between neighbors, full of sweetness that will surely follow. We imagine pies, we imagine jam, we imagine fruit in the freezer.
The peach tree’s wealth is limited (by my weekly count twenty-two this year), but the two-inch diameter fruit grows steadily in the unusually hot, dry weather. We’ve taken to calling it our California Summer, as if an anomaly, a one off, a freak of nature. Secretly we wonder if this is our new normal. The fig trees like it, the apple trees love it, but the spinach shot up, went to seed, wilted over, and collapsed defeated. Jean at the farmers market reminds me to water my lettuce every day to prevent it from bolting. I wonder how far it could run. Surely the deer would give chase.
The two-point buck with velvet antlers was back in my yard yesterday morning, browsing delicately on low-hanging apple tree limbs, baby apples and tender new leaves that followed the tent caterpillar infestation of spring. He is unafraid, yet keeps fifteen feet of distance between us at all times when I approach.
I tell him, “You stay away from my roses,” in my best mean voice. Then I bark several times at various pitches, imitating my neighbor’s dog who does a better job than I at preventing denudement of my roses in their semi-protected plastic fence-cages. The buck lifts his head majestically, stares me in the eye, is unimpressed and continues on. He walks to the edge of the mowed field grass that passes for a lawn in the islands, steps up and over the blackberries with a slight hop, and tries to meld into the low brush. But I know he is still there, waiting me out, the scent of roses more attractive and compelling than any slight fear he feels for me. He is not afraid of our cat that watches him from the security of our deck.
Raspberries hang pregnant on the canes. We have picked and eaten our fill, our lips rosy with sweetness. The strawberries were small this year and the raspberries seem to be responding to our need for the sweet, and we know the long gap that follows between them and tree fruits. A summer with sun and a higher than normal heat quotient may speed the process this year, we say. The blackberries come early this year too, catching me by surprise, before I have the time to pick and clean and smash them into slurry that will become jam. Blackberry jam may be the most beautiful in a pint jar.
I remember my friend Rosebeth made the best blackberry jelly. She strained all the seeds out, all those tiny troublemakers that might get caught between the teeth. She used layers of cheesecloth, patiently waiting for the hot fragrant liquid to drip through into a cup, then added pectin, following the precise directions on the paper insert to create her masterpiece of summer. She has been gone for nearly ten years now. I try to carry on to honor her memory, but I do not have the patience, and make the jam, seeds included.
On the island, in the middle of the island, where we live tucked between tall firs and alders, blackberry, salmonberry and thimbleberry vines, the grass is brown. I ask, and our daughter accepts the lawn-mowing assignment, although when I first offer the position she looks incredulous. “You want me to drive a mower but you won’t let me drive a car?” she asks.
Yes I nod, hoping she can avoid the deep ditches, dodge the fruit trees, weave around the two parked cars currently on portions of the lawn. One is a sixty-four Chev — rusted, missing a muffler, boards disintegrating in the bed — that my husband had refused to part with. It was his grandfather’s. I try to give it away to my cousin, who promises to fix it up and love it forever. But my husband changes his mind the week before my cousin plans to arrive with a flatbed. He still remembers his grandfather with a sentimentality that makes giving up on the truck unforgiveable. The other vehicle is our travelling-the-world-for-a-year son’s car, carefully wrapped in a cover, missing license plates, not quite abandoned. He will be home soon.
Daughter avoids all obstacles and I am grateful, although mowing the lawn is my most favored yard work of all. It is peaceful, it is powerful, it is satisfying. She finds escape in the job, her iPod plugged in, music carrying her away somewhere else. A place where she can again drive, live independently, be free of seizures. She wants her dignity back, as simple as that. I wish it for her also more than I’ve ever wished for anything. The mower runs smoothly; she takes the corners as if a professional on a race track and I wonder if it feels like a Formula One or an Indy Car to her. If it feels like she is winning the race. If she is seeing the checkered flag.
Copyright Bodle Nash 2016