I’m typing this column with stained fingers after spending the early morning hours in my favorite strawberry patch in Bowdoinham. Every year, I look forward to making the pilgrimage down that dirt road, my towers of green berry baskets bouncing on the back seat.
Today, I was the first to arrive, practically skipping to my favorite rows by the water. I was that happy to begin. A soft breeze brought the coolness of Merrymeeting Bay as I knelt beside the over-burdened plants, plucking plump fruit with both hands, thankful the rain of the past weeks hasn’t been too much for the crop. After filling a few quart baskets, I sat back on my heels for a moment to munch on berries and meditate on the crimson and emerald bounty stretching out before me. I remained like that until I heard the thud of a car door and turned to see two white-haired women walking toward me. We exchanged greetings before the pair settled in to the quiet rhythm of filling their own berry baskets to the brim.
As I returned to the task at hand, I couldn’t help but feel grateful that this berry patch still existed, and I reflected on the Fourth of July weekend family strawberry festivals of the past. I recalled how we feasted on strawberry pie or shortcake topped with cream before lighting sparklers and dancing on the lawn as fireworks exploded in the night sky. Now my daughters come here to join in with the harvesting, their small children in tow. I marvel at how careful they are as they tip-toe down the rows, putting a juicy berry into their baskets for every five that find their way into their mouths.
Of course, I, too, love the berries unadorned and warmed by the sun. At least a dozen of them didn’t make it into my baskets today. After I’ve settled up with the freckled cashier, I set 17 quarts into the trunk and plopped basket No. 18 on the passenger seat to snack on during the ride home. With the windows down, I trundled away over the washboard road, knowing I’d be back again in a few days to do it all over again, perhaps bringing along a grandchild or two.
Before 10 a.m., I had sterilized jars waiting for the crushed berries and sugar bubbling in the kettle on the stove. As sticky and delighted as I could possibly be, I breathed in the heavenly aroma and anticipated how satisfying it would be to have my designated pantry shelves lined with glistening ruby jars. How I adore the process of this pleasurable and gratifying work, knowing that on a cold winter’s morning I’ll pop open a jar, spread the jam on toast or a popover and immediately taste the sweet smile of summer. That moment is worth all the toil I’ve put in today. Worth the sore back and achy knees. Worth every mosquito bite. Worth waiting for.
By early afternoon, I had a dozen pints of jam lined up on the counter. I listened for the pop of every lid while I ladled more crushed berries into freezer containers, saving out enough to spoon over the shortcake I’ll serve at our weekend family gathering. It occurred to me that I’ve eaten berries for breakfast, and for lunch. I walked out to the compost bin with my heap of hulls, then returned to the kitchen to wash the sticky floor and counters – and the stickier pots. What a satisfying, happy day! As I admire my rows of jewel-colored jars, I can’t help but feel so very, very rich.

Karen Schneider is a freelance writer living in
West Bath. She may be reached by e-mail at iwrite@suscom-maine.net.

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