I went to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning right when they opened to get strawberries from Garden Sweet, to be sure I got there before Amy ran out. They are so precious in Colorado, there are so few and the season so short, that we typically don’t waste them in a pie or jam, but rather eat them as they are, four boxes easily gone by the end of the day. We planted a small patch of our own strawberries this year, but they got too hot and didn’t all survive, and even if they did, it would be a few years before we’d produce enough ourselves to come even close to satisfying our hunger.
Strawberries are so much more than a fruit. For me, they embody my childhood, my home, where I came from, The Farm, Oregon, summertime. Growing up in the Willamette Valley, one of the first paid jobs a girl could get besides babysitting was picking strawberries. I don’t remember much about it, other than the early morning bus ride to the field, the wet bushes and muddy rows that would eventually dry out and warm up in the heat of the sun, getting paid by the flat, how at the end of the day you were sore and tired from squatting and bending and kneeling and reaching, crawling up and down the rows, and your fingers were stained with green and dirt and strawberry juice. I was allowed to use the money I earned for just about anything I wanted, and if I remember correctly (which I’ve been accused of not doing), the Sticky Fingers denim painter pants that were my uniform in the 6th grade were paid for with strawberry money.
I first learned to pick strawberries in a field on my grandparents’ farm, The Farm. When I was only about 5 or 6, my cousin Christie and I would pick the same row, into the same basket, and when we had a certain amount, we were allowed to quit early, to go swimming in the pond or exploring in the woods. Grandpa always let us get away with not picking quite as much as we were supposed to, and with eating almost as much as we picked.
In Oregon in the summer, the most common restaurant dessert options are strawberry shortcake or marionberry cobbler. The closest I can get to marionberries in Colorado are frozen boysenberries (from Oregon) or something called a “Marion Blackberry” which are not marionberries at all. When I was growing up, I took for granted that the abundance of fruit was just what summer was like, anywhere. We had a Royal Anne cherry tree in our backyard, could pick and eat as many as we wanted, and my mom would can what we couldn’t eat fresh — we had so many it was possible to get sick of them. Now, I pay sometimes up to 6-8 dollars a pound, desperate for that remembered sweetness, and they are never as good. My Aunt Karen has so many marionberries that most years she is begging people to come pick them, to help her get rid of them.
I have newer berry memories too, from our time spend at Waldport, on the Oregon Coast. Mo’s Seafood has the best marionberry cobbler. The first summer we went, when Obi was only five months old, he found a patch of wild ones on our morning walk, picked and ate them all. We are usually there during berry season and there are three different farmer’s markets within driving distance three days a week, the berries are cheap, plentiful, and so delicious, and we are almost never without.
One year ago today, we were arriving at “our house,” beginning a month long stay. Not knowing when I can make the trip again (I’m most likely not leaving Colorado until Dexter is gone), makes me feel a particular kind of homesick. And yet, Eric and I have made a home here. We planted our own strawberry plants this year and yesterday, with some of the berries I got at the farmer’s market, Eric made me a strawberry pie, a dessert that comes from his family, has now become our tradition during berry season. I am content, happy here, in love with our little home and the place we live, and still, even though I am happily home, I am utterly homesick at the same time.
This is how life is. A strawberry isn’t just a fruit, and yet in order to truly be content with life, we must put all our attention on it when we eat a strawberry, focus only on its essential strawberry nature, let go of the story we have to tell ourselves about it, and in this way we can truly taste it, fully experience its sweetness and its impermanence, as in the story Pema Chödrön shares,
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.
Today, I am delighting in the preciousness. It seems like a good way to spend the day, to spend a life.