July 02, 2002

Blueberry Summer Summer's overabundance,

Blueberry Summer

Summer's overabundance, maps, friends, and thoughts of Fall have all converged on me this morning in a happy collision that renews my faith that there is a fabric to life. Very occasionally one does get to view the tapestry from the side that God sees, and know that there is a pattern, after all.

Now that the garden is in and the Kingdom of Grasses has been suppressed by the heat of mid summer, I have been thinking forward to Fall. Both Ann and I are Fall People; it is our favorite season, and most of our friends find this quite strange. I see the peak of summer as an intimation of Autumn, and am already thinking about gathering firewood for two winters hence (I try to cut at least a year or two ahead, and this winter's four cords is already split and stacked and nicely seasoned and dry).

Fall is not all about chores and garden responsibilities. It occurred to me this morning, especially in the shadow of the death of our friend Lynn two weeks ago, that we really need to spend more time together as a family this Fall. When we lived in Wytheville, we never missed our late August trip to Grayson Highlands State Park to pick blueberries. This is a cherished but abandoned family tradition that has languished in our busier lives in Floyd County, and suffered too from the fact that we are two hours drive from the berries now. We could buy organically grown blueberries, even pick-our-own down the road. But the sweetness of Highlands berries is all about place.

Grayson Highlands evokes in me a sense of the numinous: "there is a Presence here". I don't know why. But I do know that the hair on my arms stood up, when we saw the Highlands of Scotland last year, and I thought "this is where I have belonged, Grayson Highlands points me HERE. I know this place and it is home". I don't believe in reincarnation but have the sense that I have lived, or should have lived, in just such a setting. Odd coming from a guy raised in Alabama. So, that is the canvas on which this tale is painted, the blueberries take their place somewhere along the edge of all that.

There were places I just had to 'go' when I got the 3D Topo Altas software last week. Of course, the blueberry-pickin' place was one of the first I visited. Seeing the terrain brought back lots of memories: of spending a night alone on Pine Mt. beyond Massie Gap, watching the fog creep up the ridge like a cat in slippers and shroud me in my tent well into the next morning; of being caught in a summer storm, again in a tent, holding up the poles against 50 mph winds, realizing that there were NO seconds between lightning flash and gut-thudding thunder; getting lost in the frozen fog of a January day, discovering the rail fence that would lead me back to the car and prevent death by freezing.

The map is not the territory, and memory too is merely representational. Once life events are "past", the warp and woof of neurons, the chemistry and synaptic tangle of memory are the only maps we have of where we have been. Sometimes it is enough.

On the utilitarian side of this nostalgic ramble through the high country, I searched Google this morning to see what information was available these days on Grayson Highland. Before the Internet, this remote Virginia state park was a 'best-kept secret' and very few knew about it. I liked it that way. Now I discover that it is 'on the map', and probably threatened with being loved to death, like the Smokies and other places that suffer from tourist-blight. There is an excellent guide to the park and the trails, and you could be well prepared for a visit, now that I've let the cat out of the bag and told the world about it.

Back to the blueberries: The bushes are so tall that I have seen folks picking from horse-back! Some of the berries are as big as your thumbnail, and you can pick handsful at a time. Count on up to a gallon an hour or more per person. We cut the tops (but not the handles) out of milkjugs, loop these through our belts, so we can pick with both hands. When the milk carton gets so heavy that you start to lose your drawers, transfer the berries to a bucket.

The very best berry bushes are found...well...we have our secret places, discovered after years of wandering the hillsides in late August to early September. I remember where to go, now that I have seen the maps again. I can almost smell the dank sour smell of the Appalachians in the dying-back of early fall, and the ripe blue smell of the berries warming in the bucket.

Sweeter than berries are the recollections of memories of friends and family that have shared this Fall ritual, just there on the map, high up on Massie Gap where we sat on thrones of ancient granite, with a bottle of wine, the wind in our faces, views as far as a week from Wednesday, blessed with the illusion of the full possession of our bearings in time and place, and blueberry stains all around our happy mouths.

Posted by fred1st at July 2, 2002 08:17 AM
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