Proof Of Summer

Summer is taking its final bow.

I can tell by where the sun is setting-much farther southwest than it did in June. I went to watch it disappear tonight behind the mountains and sent thanks for another season of unparalleled sunsets.

The older I get, the more thankful I am for the simple things.

And my niece left for college today. She drove away with her parents in the family car loaded with posters and pillows. It’s a sure sign of impending fall when the word “school” enters the conversation again and there’s a little chill in the air when you’re standing there waving goodbye.

When you’re young, you toss around superlatives like “the best day of my life” or “the best summer of my life.” When you reach middle age, every day feels like the best, and every summer is a blessing. You become more cognizant of how precious time is when your whole life isn’t laid out before you in an endless stretch of possibility. All I want to do in summer is dive into it as if it were a ripe peach and then feel regret when it’s all gone.

This time in August, I begin to lament some of the things I didn’t do. I didn’t catch a big fish (I didn’t even get near a fishing pole) and I didn’t kayak enough. I meant to walk around Lily Dale and go to the Institution more. I had hoped to sit in a rocking chair at the Lenhart a few more times than I did.

What I did do successfully is eat the summer away. I had local corn and peaches and green beans and watermelon, but the Academy Award winner was the blueberry.

I found a local blueberry patch and I moved right in.

(My children have asked if I’ve left any blueberries there for anyone else. I think there are a few.)

Call me a city slicker, but I had no idea how absolutely wonderful picking blueberries is. What could be better than spending a summer day with a little pail and buckets of sunshine pulling fruit the color of blue from a bush?

It was my husband’s idea to go that first day and I kept poking my head over the rows of bushes to exclaim “This is so fun!”

Beyond stuffing one’s face with blueberries, it’s hard to articulate what is, exactly, so grand about picking them yourself. Most of us don’t have an opportunity to be that close to the food that passes through our kitchens, so maybe that’s part of it.

But I think the whole activity encompasses the spirit of summer. You’re outside, hidden behind rows of bushes whose fruit is ripening as you’re standing there in the sunshine, kind of feeling like Huckleberry Finn with your blue pail that makes a plunking sound when you drop the first berries in. Somewhere in the rows is someone you like a lot and have brought along and you’ll find them again along the way to compare your progress and decide who picks the best berries.

You develop blueberry strategies and a blueberry process and you can’t help but eat a few. (My friend Jen picks one from every bush to decide which bush is sweetest.)

I have brought everybody I know there and by the time their pails are full, they are smiling and happy and their teeth are purple. It’s an instant mood enhancer.

Last time I went (yesterday exactly) I heard a couple talking in the row behind me.

“Are you having fun?” the wife shouted to her husband.

“Yes,” he said, trying to hide his enthusiasm because he’s a guy.

“This is my Zen therapy,” she said to him.

After you’re done picking blueberries, you walk over to watch the farm’s pig rolling in the mud, and get close up to a rooster and stare at the branches of the apple trees and dream of pie.

I don’t need any more blueberries, but I just like being there.

And the thing is, now that summer is ending, I can open my freezer door and there inside all the ziplock bags are sweet little berries bursting with proof that summer came and went and it was wonderful.