Watching a video shot in Manhattan after spending much of the day alone in a high mountain bog, I feel suddenly claustrophobic. People everywhere! The heat, the noise, the lack of escape — something close to panic sets my heart racing, and I start to itch all over.
Actually, it’s not quite true that I was alone. The young woman wandering through the city in the video looks alone, yes, but I spent the day in the company of ravens, crows, cedar waxwings, pileated woodpeckers, deerflies, crickets, goldfinches, catbirds, tree swallows, bluebirds, towhees and swamp sparrows. Once I heard a small group of humans pass by on foot about a quarter mile away. And somewhere off by herself my mother also picked blueberries in her own favorite spots.
This is our yearly ritual: pack a picnic lunch, drive to the blueberry bog on a beautiful, mid-week day, and pick several gallons of berries — enough for another year’s worth of blueberry muffins, pancakes, and fruit mixtures. For the first two or three hours, I am in explorer mode, striking out for the far end of the bog — which I have yet to reach — in search of the ultimate blueberry bonanza. Sometime in early to mid-afternoon, I turn around and start back — and almost invariably, find the most loaded bushes of the day.
I always tuck my pocket notebook and a camera into my pack, but rarely use either, in part because the mental space required to photograph or write is, for me, virtually incompatible with the hunting-gathering mind. I tend to pick in a dreamy, abstracted state, focusing mostly on the berries and on the bushes that need to be stripped. How they slowly straighten up after having been relieved of all that blue. The squelch of sphagnum under my feet. The few trees offering shade.
But there’s also no doubt that I write best here at home, seated in my familiar chair, staring at the monitor of my old desktop computer. This more than anything might be why I remain such a homebody, despite the fact that I enjoy seeing other places. Bear Meadows Natural Area, in Pennsylvania’s Rothrock State Forest, is one of the most unique and poetic places you’ll ever see, home to rare species, fringed by old growth, and as free of anthropogenic noise as you can get in this part of the state. The fact that I can spend half the day there and not feel inspired to jot down a single word makes me feel like a failure as a poet.
On the other hand, though, one handful of wild highbush blueberries seems about equal to one good line of verse, and today I ate many, many handfuls in addition to those that went into the bucket. As with writing, picking blueberries is as much about taking pleasure in the moment as collecting something to savor later on. And growing in such a tannin-rich tea, they are acid enough to cure almost anything, these blues.