Around here you go to bed at night to a landscape brown and ready to shoot to the sky and wake to fields of flowers big and bright and alive. Around here you savor their aroma, their vibrance, their fleeting existence, because as soon as you close your eyes again they have withered into the earth.
Around here you wait for months for the sun to stay in the sky just a little longer to warm the ground and make things grow and allow you to stay out in the air until well past 10 pm.
Around here you must get to the corn before the deer, the tomatoes before the bugs, the berries before the birds, because every creature is waiting in the shadows to savor the fruits of summer before the trees start to drop their leaves, the sun casts shadows sooner, the rain turns to snow.
And so on this early August day I am hit with the realization that we are on the back side of summer now. The hot side, yes, but the down hill slope indeed.
The weeds are tall, the late season flowers are in full bloom, the clover has reached its peak, the kids are buying school supplies, the sun is leaving us a little sooner each evening, I am contemplating what types of celebrations I am going to cram into my birthday month and
the wild raspberries have appeared like tiny drops of heaven, little rewards, consolation prizes for a summer on it’s way out of dodge.
These perfect little morsels are what I spent the late summers of my childhood hunting while sitting bareback on a horse with my best friend and a plastic grocery bag. These tart wild fruits that grow on vines along the thick brush are what my eyes are searching for this time of year. To hell with the wild sunflower, the coneflowers, the juneberries that the bugs have demolished. If I can bite down on a wild, perfectly red raspberry and savor the juices that hit my tongue if only once in a summer I am satisfied.
Fall can come tap dancing in.
Winter can bring it.
I got my raspberry.
So it was with delight that I hit the trail last Sunday for a leisurely ride with pops, husband and little sister. It was the last day in July and it sure as hell felt like it. The air was muggy, but there was a nice breeze and the sun was hiding behind a skim of clouds for the time being. It was enough relief to keep us from baking, enough to allow us to saddle up and head for our favorite pasture in the east.
We weren’t looking for anything in particular, the four amigos. We just wanted to be in one another’s company as the morning rolled on into the afternoon. See, the other casualty of late summer is this: little sister is leaving. Yup. Back to east side of the state to finish up her schooling and become a grown up already. I haven’t admitted it yet here, but the fact that time is marching on and out too quickly, bringing with it this type of consequence, has been the catalyst to the waves of dread and the reason I have occasionally pulled on my crabby pants during the past five days or so.
I am lashing out at time and wondering why the bluebells can’t stay….
Why the clover must dry up…
Why the sun can’t maintain its heat…
Why my gray hairs multiply with each pluck of a straggler…
Why little sisters don’t stay little forever.
But anyway, there we were last Sunday strolling on the back of good horses through acres of wild sunflowers and grass up to the heels of our boots. There we were riding just a little further, despite the fact that the sun had reappeared and the temperature was rising. There we were, the four of us, bonded by our love for a place, the desire to be part of something a little more untamed, and the need to be together out in it for as long as we could.
We were chatting about the unprecedented rainfall and the lush vegetation when pops, always in the lead, pushed his horse through a barley visible trail like a cow dog going after an unruly bull and squealed like a little boy. The three of us stopped in our tracks. What could it be? A mountain lion? An elk? A big, black hole? Aliens?
As pops flung his body off his horse and dove into the brush one of us dared to ask that question. You know, the one that starts with “What” and ends with “is it?”
“What is it, what’s the deal. Are you ok? It must be an alien this time…pops? Where you going?”
“RASPBERRIES,” he hollered from behind a tangle of green weeds and thorny brush and vines.
“RASPBERRIES” he mumbled as he dropped his horse’s reigns to the ground to reach and bend and lunge around him, his wide fingers carefully plucking the delicate fruit from its vine before popping his mouth full of the wild, red, succulent berries.
Well, that was it. That’s all he needed to say to get the rest of us to follow suit, fling ourselves off of the back of our sweaty beasts and dive into a draw, braving thorns, mosquitos, poison ivy, bees, ants and that dreaded and inevitable alien to get to the prairie rarity before pops and the birds ate them all.
“There’s hundreds of them guys! Look at all of them….munch munch munch…remember this moment…munch munch…because in the winters…munch munch…we will talk about how we found all those raspberries out east that one summer…munch munch…here you go…taste some…”
And so we did. We all picked and tasted and searched the area like scavengers on a hunt for gold. We talked about what it might have been like to be a Native American out in this area and to come upon berries this sweet on a hot summer day.
We talked about the past summers where we wandered into similar patches. We talked about how many there might be here and what we could make with them.
We talked about coming back with a bucket.
But by the time we were done talking our fingers were stained red and so were our tongues and we had cleared the area of all visible signs of the wild fruit.
Because that’s the thing about wild raspberries, they very rarely hit the bottom of a bucket or make their way into a jam or pie.
No, no, no. They taste the best standing in a pasture, surrounded by sky and bugs and up to your eyeballs in foliage and leaves and vines and pure bliss.
So yes, the summers out here are brief. I don’t know why they have to be that way. I don’t know why the green leaves can’t hold on a little longer or why the wildflowers have to wither at all. I don’t know why 80 degrees only touches our skin for a few short months or where the bumblebees go when the snow comes.
I don’t know why I am beginning to notice lines on my face and a few strands of silver in my hair.
And I certainly don’t know why little sisters grow up and leave home…
or how wild raspberries appear and disappear like magic.
I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s for the best. See, if we had paradise all year how would heaven measure up?
Because I’m sure there are raspberries in every cool draw in heaven.
Raspberries and clover, blue sky and just the right amount of clouds, good horses and sisters and husbands and fathers and mothers all riding together through lush pastures like the one that exists out east of our home…
the one that exists in my heaven.