Rainberries

My friend Nancy and I arranged to go blueberry picking today at a place about forty-five minutes from my house. When I woke up this morning, the skies were overcast, but that’s the way clouds have been around here. They threaten, they tantalize, they tease–but they never follow through with any rain. I didn’t give them much thought.

We arrived at the blueberry farm in good time. Nancy’s daughter-in-law stayed in the car to feed her baby, with plans to catch up with us later.

The bushes were swollen with clusters of blueberries. We found a spot and started filling our pails. I was quite busy filling my mouth, too. What is it about fruit, right off the vine or the bush or the tree?

Working together at a simple chore makes for the most comfortable kind of conversation. We chatted and plucked away at the berries, moving slowly along the row. Every once in a while, a boom would sound through the fields, and the gluttonous birds would hurl up into the sky and away from their all-you-can eat blueberry buffet.

I felt the first drops of rain. I didn’t pay much attention to them, figuring it was just more teasing. The farmers must have been praying hard, though. Those drops turned into many drops, and soon, Nancy and I were saturated down to our underwear.

“Do you want to stop?” Nancy asked me.

“I don’t mind if you don’t,” I answered.

I wasn’t lying. You could hear all of yellowing, parched creation, just sucking it in. My skin relished it, too. After the days of sweating and wilting, I felt like a plant, myself. Restored, cool, softened.

After a few minutes of that, we were the only ones left in the rows.  Nancy’s daughter-in-law pulled up in her car, nice and dry inside, and enjoyed some laughter and camera-phone antics. We just laughed and kept working. Water was streaming from our heads and our faces. The soles of my Birks started to make embarrassing sounds whenever I took a step.

The pails were filled, and we went to the front to pay. The girl behind the counter poked little holes in the bottoms of our bags, and rainwater poured out. (We didn’t want to pay for the rain weight).

Shivering and soaked, we went back to Nancy’s and she invited me to shower and have lunch. The hot water felt delicious on my goose-bumped skin. I wore one of Nancy’s bathrobes and sat down to the most delicious BLT of my entire life.

The berries are mostly all packed safely away in my freezer. I left some out for rainberry muffins later.

 

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Biker Chick

I’ve really gotten into the bike this summer. You won’t find me in spandex gear or gloves or running shoes (or even a helmet, I admit it). My bike isn’t even my bike–it’s my son’s, and he never uses it. And it’s nothing fancy. But it does the job for me.

I  didn’t pick the best summer to get into biking. It’s been a wickedly hot one. I usually set out after supper when the rolling boil has settled into simply steaming. By the end of the ride, my face is always wet with sweat tears that trickle out from under my sunglasses. But I’m not crying. I’m very, very happy.

I was a devoted cyclist as a kid. Not by choice. It was that, or walk. I remember learning to ride a bike when I was in Grade Three. Living out in the country, there wasn’t much need to ride bikes. Bikes and gravel roads do not jive well. I had cousins that lived in the city, and I was at their house in Brantford when they enthusiastically took on the task of teaching me.

I set out on the sidewalk. That way, if I took a spill, I would fall onto the grassy safety of someone’s front lawn. My cousins held onto the back of the bike, keeping me upright and cheering me on. They let go once I was semi-balanced, and I wobbled a few feet, crashed, climbed on again. It didn’t take long. An hour or two, and I was teetering ecstatically along the sidewalks of Brantford. My cousins grabbed bikes and we roared around the neighbourhood. I stopped with my toes and wore off all the rubber on the tips of my running shoes. Those were the days before hand-brakes, when you had to pedal backwards to make the bike stop. (Stopping was another lesson).

My parents found me an old bike at the Aylmer Sales Barn. I steered it into the smooth ruts in the gravel, doggedly pedalling down the road to the woods, or into the grassy lane of the forgotten cemetery to creep myself out. Creeping myself out was a  beloved pass-time when I was eight. Actually, I still kind of like it.

Once we moved into town, a bike became a serious necessity. Out with the school bus and in with the bike. When I was around twelve, the ten-speed Targa became all the rage. I saved my babysitting money and bought a white one. I can’t even begin to guess the number of miles I logged on that thing. It was still around when I left for university.

Over the years, I’ve headed out occasionally on the bike. I remember one ride I took with my husband, who is an excellent cyclist. The kind that wears a helmet. We were out on a country road and there was this long, excruciating hill. I was whining loudly. He reached over from his bike, put his hand between my shoulder blades and pushed me all the way up it.

Since riding regularly over the past few months, there has been no need for anyone to push me up the hills. I can manage them pretty well. Of course, I prefer the ones that lead down. If I’m alone, I’ll actually yell,”Wheeeeee!” when soaring down them. I will also holler, “Moooo!” to the cows that I pass, although they rarely acknowledge me, engaged as they are with blinking and chewing their cud. The cars make wide circles around me, and that’s good, given my lack of a helmet. I like the spinning sounds of the bike’s tires as I wheel down the paved roads on the outskirts of town. The enormous fields of corn and yellow wheat spread out on either side of me. The ditches are filled with dusty flowers. Monarch butterflies waft beside me, then drift off in another direction. The killdeers cry out and take off along the ground, worried for their nests. They aren’t fooling anyone, but their nests are safe from me. Overhead, the skies are vast and endless, the way skies are, out in the open countryside.

Biking brings me the kind of freedom where I can stop thinking, and just focus on the rhythm of the wheels and the strength in my legs, the pumping of my heart, and the wind in my face.

Happy Place

Life in a subdivision has never been my dream. I always envisioned following country roads lined with ditches of chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace to my big, yellow-brick house, driving past the deep green and gold of fields of corn and wheat, a mailbox at the end of a long, treed driveway. I imagined a country garden filled with hollyhocks and zinnias, a thriving vegetable garden in tidy plots, and a path into the orchard.

That’s not how it went. We live on a street filled with walkers, bikers, strollers, joggers. Cars and service trucks cruise by. Kids scream. The neighbour plays his country music while he works outside. LOUDLY. Water splashes in neighbours’ pools. I can smell the curry and onions the neighbours are making for supper. I can hear the conversations on the other sides of fences.

Our lawn is small. It’s not a sprawling country yard, filled with towering century trees and tire swings and garden plots. Even so, in its own way, it is a tiny kingdom of grass and flowers, and I overlook it with pleasure from my throne, the lounge chair.

There are the perennials that grow in little gardens along the fences, but every year, I spend two or three hundred dollars on annuals and patio pots and window boxes. It seems like an indulgence, but when I step out into the yard, the peace and beauty of that little patch of land restores me. Flowers spill out of the window boxes on our garden shed. The sturdy geraniums burst red in their pots. The  tomato plants under the window smell pungent and tangy when I water them. Every summer, I have the pleasure of the first red tomato, just like any farmer’s wife.

                                                                     

 

The trees we planted eighteen years ago when we first came here have grown taller than our two-story house. There is deep shade under them. Birds sing and nest in the bushes and branches, squirrels scamper along the fence highways, and chipmunks dart along the ground with their stuffed cheeks. We have fireflies in July, and the magical, brief visits of hummingbirds.

                                                      

In the middle of the chatter and the odours and the bustle of subdivision life, the back yard is my little dream corner of life in the country. The sky spreads above it. There is room for cloud-watching. Winds stir in leaves. Things grow. Flowers bloom. Ripe pears drop. Grass is soft and cool under feet.

I would forgo pedicures and hair appointments and movies before I would give up my little square of grass and earth behind the house.