The red-eyed vireo may repeat his song 20,000 times during the course of a summer day. I was thinking of that as I heard one singing off in the trees, as I picked what felt like my 20,000th strawberry in my friend's garden today. We've had perfect strawberry weather this June, and my friend's patch was overflowing. She needed help. After enjoying a breakfast of Belgian waffles with strawberries, the two of us picked 23 quarts over several hours--punctuated, of course, by a lunch of yogurt, honey, and... yes, strawberries.
There's something lulling about repeating a gesture over and over, even as your back and legs ache. It was warm but not overly sunny, either, which made it a pleasure to be out doing something productive in the garden. And of course, knowing I was going to take home some of these luscious fruits was added incentive. I lost myself in the activity, only occasionally (because I'm a birder and can't help it) becoming aware of birdsong in the surrounding woods. The red-eyed vireo, for example. Or the robins nesting nearby. Or a bluebird. Once I looked up and saw a hawk circling overhead. The setting was bucolic--peas in bloom, corn almost knee-high, terraced perennial beds in full bloom, butterflies fluttering over fields spangled with wildflowers. Who could call this work, this crawling over strawberry runners, squatting in the dirt, plucking ripe berries from amidst the foliage and dropping them with a plunk in a pail?
The real work started when I got all those berries home. I dropped off a bowlful at my parents' house, and gave away as many as I could to my neighbor with many children--those growing bodies need the vitamin C. But even after putting some aside for my cereal over the next couple of days, I still had a heap. These I rinsed, spread out on a towel, hulled one by one--the repetition less enjoyable than the picking but meditative nonetheless--and bagged for the freezer. Two quarts that will undoubtedly form the base of some wicked good smoothies later this summer.
For each berry picked,
vireo sings one more phrase
in praise of summer.