Friday, May 30, 2014

Strawberry picking....and parenthood

I have a weird love for picking fruits & vegetables.

For a long time I have tried to understand this love, since I tend to be a pretty lazy gardener who plants lots of perennials because they require so little work but provide lovely payoff.  I have grown strawberries and tomatoes in the past and have put in eggplant and watermelon this year, but I treat them like my perennials, which means they aren't terrific producers.

But few things make me as happy or provide me with as great a calm as picking produce.

D's grandpa, Papaw Chester, puts in a garden every year at my mother-in-law's house but tends not to be too interested in doing much with what is grown, so every Sunday I stroll back to the garden and harvest okra, green beans, tomatoes, and peppers.  When the apple tree in her yard
 produces, I can be counted on to climb a ladder and get whatever is within stretching-on-tiptoes reach.

Last year I took the kids blueberry picking, and the year before that it was peach and raspberry picking.  This week my parents, M and I went strawberry picking.

As I was picking, I thought about why I enjoy it so.

Maybe I'm too steeped in The Grapes of Wrath and My Antonia, having just read them in recent weeks, but I think harvesting makes me mindful of not only where my food comes from, but where I come from (a long-line of vegetable growers) and where other people come from.

I pick for enjoyment, but many people pick out of necessity, and there are few jobs as physically demanding as harvesting by hand.  I think of migrant farmers who come to this country and willingly do the work that so many Americans would think beneath them to do.   I think of the movie The Butler, which I watched this weekend, and its reference to cotton-pickers, the heat, the nicks on fingers and the back-breaking ache of bending over.   When I'm harvesting I think of pioneers, struggling daily to make enough food to survive.

When I'm picking I think of the hope that goes into gardening.....any flower but especially fruits and vegetables.  It is very much an act of faith, so much like parenting.  You tend and water and care and sometimes, months later or many years later, as in the case of orchards, you are rewarded with the reassurance that you helped produce something that can sustain others.

Sometimes, even when you care and nurture and do everything you are supposed to do as a gardener, things beyond your control keep the fruit or vegetable from being all that it could be.  Weather.  Deer.  Rabbits.  Disease.

Like parenting.

Gardening and picking fruits and vegetables is a meditation on serenity, doing what I can, knowing what I can't and understanding the difference.  

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