Picking berries as the wolf whuffs
Fruits Aux Sept Liqueurs
Put into an ample bowl the following: slices of orange, tangerines, and bananas; pitted cherries; wood strawberries and peeled grapes; sliced peeled peaches and plums and ripe pears. Sprinkle them with sugar and a little lime juice.
Pour over them the following liquid, which has been made of a wine glassful each of the following but no other liqueurs, all mixed thoroughly together: brandy, kirsch, cointreau, benedictine, maraschino, and a touch of kümmel.
Stir the salad lightly, and put on ice for two hours. Just before serving, pour half a bottle of demi-sec champagne over it.
Yes, it is crazy, to sit savoring such impossibilities, while headlines yell at you and the wolf whuffs through the keyhole. Yet now and then it cannot harm you, thus to enjoy a short respite from reality. And if by chance you can indeed find some anchovies, or a thick slice of rare beef and some brandy, or a bowl of pink curled shrimps, you are doubly blessed, to possess in this troubled life both the capacity and the wherewithal to forget it for a time.
-M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf, 1942 ***
I’ve discovered I love picking berries. When I’m not picking berries, I’m often thinking about picking berries. So far I’ve picked about 10 pounds of wild saskatoons and about 20 pounds of garden raspberries. I’ve made one batch of extremely rustic saskatoon jam, and now the pulp from the latest batch of slow-cooked saskatoons is hanging in an old pillow case over a bowl. Tomorrow I’ll cook it down again with some sugar and turn it into a magnificent syrup. In February when it’s cold and dark and spring feels like it will never come again, I’ll make pancakes. I’ll open the jar and the scent of our short summer will waft up to meet me. I will sigh a great sigh and smile.
There are still so many berries on the bushes. This year’s relentless rain means more than the never-ending mosquito swarms. The saskatoons are PLUMP. Sassy plump. Calling out to be plucked plump. My fingers are already stained and I fully intend to go out again tomorrow. I can’t stop. Some great, ancient satisfaction has awoken in me through berry picking. My eyes seek out each purple dot through the green leaves. My hands reach out to acquire my prize. Over and over I play this wonderful game until my bucket is full to the brim and I saunter home with it propped on my hip like a baby.
The raspberries are equally magnificent. I can pick everyday right now. Every morning I look to see how many more tiny hats have turned crimson. It delights me to no end.
M.F.K. Fisher’s dramatic recipe for boozy fruit captures the kind of decadence I’ve been experiencing now that the garden is in full bloom. The romaine lettuce is enormous. The beets want thinning and the greens sautéed in butter. The other night I split some veggie marrows in half, scooped out the seeds and baked them for an hour before stuffing them with taco meat and cheese and baking them for another 25 minutes. This was served with a salad of romaine, radish, hakurei, and parsley. The garlic is nearly ready to be harvested. After it’s been hung to dry for a couple of weeks, I’m going to cut the top of a bulb open so the flesh just shows, drizzle it with olive oil, wrap it in foil and bake it until caramelizes. Then I’m going to scoop out that sweet, garlicky mess, spread it on buttered sourdough toast, and devour it between sips of red wine. Yesterday I made basil butter, which we slathered on the sourdough and ate between bites of my mom’s rich clam chowder.
I know I’m not the only one gorging on nature’s abundance right now. I thrill at the sight of so much wild fruit, imagining how well fed our local bears will be for the winter. High on the slopes of the nearby mountain I picture rich patches of blueberries and wild strawberries, hordes of fat ants beneath rotting stumps. I’ve learned few practical facts of the local grasses and plants, but I’ve made my start at becoming known to this place. I’ve left saskatoon offerings for each of my micro-pilgrimage elders, as well as flowers, wild rose petals, strawberries, poetry.
These days, the news is like sandpaper to the soul. Corporate media tells us what to think, waves an endless barrage of fear mongering and shallow entertainment in our faces so we won’t meditate too hard about who’s truly getting richer and who isn’t. We chase a programmed idea of wealth and wonder why we feel so empty. The more time I spend away from the screen and in the natural world, the more my mental and spiritual health improves. Something inside me is shifting. The screen removes all ancient rhythm, night to day, day to night, season to season. The screen is Vegas energy, constant bells and chatter, so before you know it, it’s past midnight and you’ve spent your hours like poker chips, slapping down your personal data as collateral for just one more scroll through images and memes that you’re never going to remember. As Charles says, “For I consume and I am consumed.”
I worry for those (most recently in Melbourne) locked away in their tiny urban apartments, under curfew and not allowed to go out without a good reason to give armed authorities. Masked solo trip to the grocery store. One hour (and no more) of outdoor exercise. For years already we’ve been slowly replacing real-world contact with screen-based communication. Now our separation is being forced upon us "for our safety." Slogans like “staying apart keeps us together” exemplifies the spiritual disaster this flu virus has been made into. I’ve not been allowed to hold my grandmother’s hand for five months. Next they'll drug our drinking water to better manage our collective "health."
Give me soft afternoons, wind through pine trees. Give me a coyote’s scream at 2am, loud enough to wake me and draw me outside to peer into the darkness, waiting for the next screech to burst through the trees and echo over the lake, where the moon’s glow is trysting with the ripples. Give me storms that rattle rain on roof, conjure the scent of damp soil. Give me the last of the hummingbirds as they head south. Give me the end of summer, the promise of the harvest. Give me the honour of saving seeds for next year’s planting.
The headlines yell. The wolf whuffs. Seek out good company and enjoy a long meal. Intimacy is defiance. Nurture your off screen life as if you were tending a garden. Grow friendships, grow trust, grow love. Conserve the Good.
If you need me, I’ll be in the berries.