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Strawberry Picking and Simple Delights

I was lucky to get out strawberry picking on July 5th, one of the rare sunny days we’ve had here in Maine so far this summer. I got to Maxwell’s Farm a few minutes before they opened and joined a line of cars waiting patiently on the side of the road.

I was glad to get there early enough to have my pick of spots because I wasn’t quite sure what the berries would be like after so much rain. (For those not in Maine, it was one of the soggiest Junes we’ve had in years, and so far July isn’t shaping up to be much better.)

Happily, the berries were in reasonably good shape. It helped that I wasn’t trying to get a lot, just a few for eating and enough to make some strawberry sorbet. So, even though the berries were a bit sparser than in some previous years, I got as much as I wanted, including some large, juicy berries.

And it gave me some time to think.

Valuing food

I can’t pick strawberries without remembering the sci-fi show Firefly. In the pilot episode, Shepherd Book pays for his passage on the spaceship Serenity by sharing some produce he’d grown. Among his offerings were strawberries, although we as viewers don’t know this until we see Kaylee, the engineer, in the kitchen.

We first see Kaylee handling a small box as if it were the most precious item in the world. When she opens it and pulls out a large, luscious, perfectly ripe strawberry, her expression is childlike in its wonder and delight. And when she takes a bite - ! She’s transported into bliss, and we know she will savor each morsel of that delectable berry.

Remembering this, I can’t help but think about how we value food. For Kaylee, on a spaceship, anything fresh was a welcome relief from canned, dehydrated, or frozen foods. But for those of us land-bound, in a society where we’re so divorced from the origins of our food, how much do we value it? Do we truly understand how important it is to us?

It’s easy enough to go to the supermarket and buy frozen strawberries any time of year, or even fresh ones, but if you do that, do you truly understand everything that goes into the production of that food? How much do you appreciate it, when it’s always available and you have no direct connection?

Experiencing a little of that connection first-hand is one of the things I enjoy about berry-picking.

Being in the present

The other thing I enjoy about berry picking is how meditative it is. I had to pay attention to what I was doing – it’s simply not possible to pick and do anything else with your hands at the same time.

Plus, you have to be present enough to notice if the berry is worth picking. Some looked a nice glossy red from one side but had mold on the other, or were ripe on top but white on the bottom. And I had to look a little harder this year, investigating under leaves and behind stems, because all the rain meant fewer berries.

As I got into a pattern, I started to notice other things. The warmth of the sun on my back – and how nice it was to feel the sun again. The incredible sweet scent of the berries. The festive brilliant red amongst the green plants. The feel of the fruit in my fingers, firm but slightly yielding, with the tiny bumps of seeds. The satisfying minute snap as I tugged a berry free. The sounds of other people picking around me.

In short, I was surrounded by the sounds and scents and feel of life, quite a contrast to my days normally spent at home in front of a computer. And it reminded me how easily we can forget that food is life. Not only the life it gives us with its energy and nutrients but the life it once possessed and the lives of all the people nurturing it.

Simple delights

All in all, picking strawberries reminds to take pleasure in some of the small activities that can be so easy to take for granted. It also helps me remember how lucky I am to be able to do this, to be grateful for all that I have, and to remember the gifts of slowing down and truly noticing the sweetness around me.

And if I’m really paying attention, maybe I can enjoy the strawberries (almost) as much as Kaylee.

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