Personally, there are few things I find quite so satisfying as a couple of hours spent in the strawberry patch. The orchard where I go to pick fresh berries is situated on the side of a rolling hill one county south of home. It is, in fact, the place where the generally flat terrain of my county gives way to the roller coaster that marks the approach to Ohio’s Amish Country.
When you stand among the rows of strawberry plants and look south, you are treated to the view of a deep, lush valley. A dairy farm sits across the way; railroad tracks mark the very bottom of the slope. The sky is a perfect dome overhead, suggesting that this orchard and this dairy farm and you are all contained inside an enormous terrarium.
I am not good at living in the moment – my head is too full of worries and what-ifs. Of plans and lists. But in this strawberry patch, I am completely present. The sun warms the berries, which can’t help but send their sweet scent into the air. Despite the occasional training passing down in the valley and a small plane heading for the community airport, it is quiet. Quiet, except for the voices of children and moms.
The children: they bound out of the car, heading eagerly for the rows of plants. Moms call them back to get their buckets, to make sure they have their sun hats, to adjust their sunglasses. And now the joy of discovery, like an Easter Sunday egg hunt. “Momma! Look at this one!” “Look, Mommy! I found one!”
The moms: There is patience in their voices. This is not a hurried trip to the grocery store; this is an outing. This is like going to the beach or going on a picnic. “Oh, isn’t that one beautiful? Look how big it is!” They gently remind their offspring to only pick the red ones and laugh as more berries go in mouths than in buckets.
There’s another sound to note: the sound of a berry hitting the bottom of an empty bucket. The buckets are plastic, and the berries make a distinct “thunk” as they land. The sound only lasts a short while and disappears as the first berries provide a cushion for the rest. Come to think of it, there is one more sound. A strawberry makes a distinctive snap when separated from its stem. The snap of the smaller berries has a higher pitch – “ping!”
If the only strawberries you have ever purchased come already picked, you don’t know about the growing habits of these plants. Stalks rise from among the leaves, a cluster of stems at the end. The berries hang their heads, certainly not in shame but because the stems cannot support the weight of the fruit. If you are an efficient picker of strawberries, you grasp the cluster in one hand, turn it up to face you, and pluck each berry – snap! – with the other hand. This can be accomplished while sitting or kneeling beside the row. If you are young and have a strong back, you stand and straddle the row.
But efficiency isn’t necessarily the goal. Filling the buckets can take as long as you want it to. And when it is a perfect day in June, it should last as long as possible.
The world is in turmoil. The news most days is never good. The soul thirsts for peace. But despite our fears for the future, hope can be found in spending time among green things, in putting our fingers in the rich loam of a garden, in planting seeds and awaiting their promise. Hope can be found on the side of a hill, picking strawberries, on a day in June.