One perfect wild blueberry surrounded by green foliage.
My friend Chris, who loves chickens more than berry picking, posted a picture of that blueberry on Facebook several weeks ago. She was with her BFF, Terri, who just might be the only person as fanatical about finding blueberries as I am. I knew better than to ask where they were. Her cryptic caption about being “somewhere” in the woods meant that she was sworn to the sacred BFF/Blueberry Patch oath of secrecy. Any serious blueberry picker worth their ice cream pail knows that you don’t mess around when it comes to disclosing the location of someone’s blueberry patch. Who needs a picking partner who squirms or caves when someone asks them, “so….where exactly did you find the berries?”
It has been another summer of a lot of back and forth to the cabin. To cut grass, mostly. I am suntanned and sore. Each week, as I headed up to the lake with groceries and a weed whacker in the trunk, I told myself I should stop to see if the berries were ready in the Chippewa. I did not know until a week ago that a late frost had taken most of the blossoming power out of the plants.
Another school year starts for me this week. I will meet a whole new crop of college freshmen with cell phones they “forget” to mute and fresh haircuts and hope. For the eighteenth fall semester, I will teach them to write passable essays with topic sentences and strong supporting details. We will talk about plagiarism a lot and they will, the good Lord willing, learn the difference between MLA and APA source citation. I will explain comma splices and sentence fragments more times than I care to think about in August or any month, for that matter.
Inevitably, when I assign a narrative essay, they will ask me how long it needs to be. College freshmen do that. I will tell them what I often do. That their essays need to be as long as it takes to tell the story and that the story is in the details. When I say this, they will give me the look. The one that tells me that they are used to people like me giving them a word count, a page count, a rubric that tells them that what they’ve written is acceptable and worthy of the A’s they crave, like oxygen. They want rules and parameters and no red marks on their papers. They want to be fabulous or at the very least, not disappointing.
Mostly, they want it to be easy. Don’t we all?
I will tell them to breathe-for-heaven’s-sake and to just. tell. the. story. To paint a picture with their words. To remember the scent of pine pitch on a sultry August afternoon or their girlfriend’s perfume or the cigar smoke wafting through the air at a rock concert. To feel the sun on their shoulders as they skimmed across the lake on water skis behind a gleaming red speed boat. To see, again, the pastel pink sunset, the inky blackness of a night full of stars, the diamonds in the waves. To savor the memory of the taste of one perfect wild blueberry, the rack of ribs, or the needle-sharp coldness of a beer after mowing.
That the rest will come. It is only then that they will write. Really write. And it will be messy and scary.
But it will be fabulous. I just know it.