Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fruits of Summer

by Zinta Aistars

Call me mad, but really, I would prefer to wake to a sparkling white morning, the trees lacy with snow, the ground covered with fluffy white, and those fat flakes falling soft, soft, melting in my upturned palm.

But it is mid July, and the days are searing hot. We have just sweated through days of 90s (Fahrenheit) and the upcoming week promises to be the same. Blistering heat, skies blue and with only an occasional wisp of a cloud, nothing between great gold sun and us.

There are moments that I do enjoy the season. The early mornings or the late evenings, before the heat has grown intense or after it has begun to withdraw, easing toward cool evening. Now and then, that more gentle day, when warmth wraps itself around me with a sweet touch, but not so overbearing as this, like looking into the open door of an oven.

Today is that searing hot day. It cooks. You know the sort, when a cracked egg might sizzle on sidewalk. There is no escaping it. I would hibernate within the escape of my chilled rooms, but I am lured outside.

By what? What could possibly? Ah, the fruits of summer.

My very favorite: raspberries. I've invited my mama to come along to pick up chickens, however, not fruit. Once per season, we take this trek east toward Battle Creek (Michigan), where a friend has a small, five-acre organic farm. She keeps a chicken coop, raises turkeys for holiday meals, and we order up how many we want for the coming weeks, then go out to pick them up, coolers filled with ice.

Who knows what comes over me when we all meet by the freezer filled with plucked and processed chickens, frozen now and ready to transport back to my own kitchen. But I peer across Shirley's shoulder to her five acres, and there, down the slope and up again, just by the tree line, are rows of raspberry bushes. 

"If we picked them ourselves?" I hear myself saying. "Might we have a pint? Raspberries?"

"In this heat?" Shirley marvels. "It's too much even for me. But if you like ... "

She hands me a pint container. Mama looks moist and reluctant, a little wince on her pursed lips. She wasn't expecting this.

"Oh, come on," I nudge her. "I'll pick."

She sighs. Reaches for a container. "I'll take one, too."

Shirley allows us to drive to the back of the acreage where the rows of raspberry bushes grow to save us the melting walk. Out we go then, picking fast. But it doesn't take long before I can hear my mother heave a heated sigh and then there she is, shirtless, having unbuttoned her blouse and tied it instead over her head and shoulders like a nun's veil. She notes my grin and shrugs and starts to ruffle through the low bushes, looking for red berries.

I think about childhood summers as I pick. Cooler then, not such a dreaded season for me when I was a child. Picking fruit of all kinds was a part of summer I very much enjoyed. My parents would take my sister and me to orchards, to groves, to rows of cherry trees and blueberry bushes to pick our fill.

I loved cherry picking most. Limbs heavy with bright red fruit, hanging low and filled with ripe and sweet clusters. Such bounty! And the trees were just right for climbing. I ate more than I picked, and by end of afternoon, my belly would ache and my mouth was stained with cherry juice and my knees were raw from scraping bark. And I was summer happy, hanging out near the sky, or so I thought, little tree tramp, girl monkey, leaves tangled in my hair. 

Our containers full, sweat dripping down our faces, my mother and I emerge from the raspberry rows and scamper back into my car. I turn the AC up high while my mother struggles to get back into her damp shirt. Shirley is waiting for us.

Popping berries into our mouths as we head home, we quick stop by the store for butter pecan ice cream. Home, my father peeking into the bowl of just washed berries, we put out bowls, the ice cream melting fast, the berries spilling over that cool white glory in bright red, and sit down to eat.

Summer, you are forgiven. For this, one can.


  1. Looks great. I am in Hopkins Minneasota at my daughter's helping out with new Grandchild. This week has been their Raspberry Festival - when this area was farms it was a major raspberry growing area. No farms now.

  2. We need to bring the farms back, Tom. Have any patches in the Keweenaw?