Sometimes the weather breaks, and you realize that everything you thought you knew for sure is not necessarily so. That happened to me today. I was out in the blueberries, my arms forever getting tangled in Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball which I’d spiraled round the bushes like tinsel on a tree. The metallic tape was intended to keep the birds away, but it’d got caught up, twisted in the blueberry branches, catching at my fingers as they reached in to pick the one fat blue-almost-black berry in the cluster of hard green ones. (Why does one get ripe so much sooner than the others? Even in the shade? My brain buzzed with questions as it will when the rest of my attention is focused on anything specific, questions that I will immediately forget and so ask many times over. For example, the blueberry question has been on my mind for years. And yet I don’t think it’s ever made it past my mouth.)
Picking berries requires, and promotes, a particular kind of attention that takes me out of myself. It’s detailed work, and fastidious. You can’t hold the berry too closely, or it bleeds. As you pick, you squirrel away the picked berries in the palm of your hand until you’ve gotten enough of them to put into the basket looped around your other arm. You are too involved in picking to eat, and besides which this isn’t about eating: it’s about gathering. For a food hoarder, gathering is its own reward. It’s the point. If someone were to come near me at this moment, I would growl. Mine. The point is not that I have fifty jars of jelly neatly labeled with variety and year collecting dust in the cabinet. The point is this is food, and it is here, now, mine for the picking. It won’t be good later.
I was picking berries in a field near our house a few weeks ago, and heard the sound of footsteps walking along the gravel road. Did I look up, to smile, to wave like the friendly neighbor I am? Did I calmly continue to pick berries, ready to respond if my neighbor were to ask what I was doing, and could he join me? Dear reader, I did not. I hid. I hid behind the bush, picking furiously, hiding my basket.
The footsteps continued. They were so heavy. Who could it be? I ran through the list of possible names in my mind, noting with resentment any with whom I’d had berry altercations with in the past, whether real (none) or imagined (all). I crafted what I would say, how I would react, in each particular case. I carefully reviewed my right to pick these berries, my justification, my defense prepared. Water-tight. And yet, the footsteps continued. They were Mr. Poe’s thumping heart. I began to feel somewhat crazed. I picked faster, not caring anymore whether the individual berries were at their optimal peak of blue. I picked dark purple berries, light purple, even pink berries. The bag was getting full. The sun hammered my shoulder blades. Mosquitoes complained. The footsteps continued. Why wouldn’t this person walk on? I shifted my position, squatted low in the grass where there was a great clump of berries. (I would remember this later, as I traced the swollen line of my unmentionables in itchy red bites.)
And yet still the footsteps. Periodically, they would halt, but then they’d continue. It couldn’t be the way it sounded, that they were never closer, never farther, never moving at all. They were coming closer, surely, they must be. Or if the person had already passed, surely they were more distant. But the steps sounded the same. Was it Poe, or Monty Python? I shuddered. I looked up.
My dog, Buddy, recovering from surgery, proud as a poppy in his stiff paper post-surgical collar, the collar that his knees bumped heavily every time he took a step, circled the garden. When he saw me looking up, he grinned.
“That’s how you got melanoma of the mouth,” I muttered. But quietly, in case anybody should hear.
The thing about revelations is like the thing about questions. They don’t just happen once, at least not to me. They happen all the time. Not new revelations: the same, exact, revelations.
This morning, the air was, for the first time in weeks, a pleasant place to be. Because I actually don’t fully thaw out until August, I hadn’t particularly minded the previous weeks in which most people didn’t consider it possible to venture outside until after sunset, when the night sky swarmed with lightning bugs and crickets called to each other across the field. But this morning, even as the sun soaked up the dew from the parched earth, the air was gentle.
A friend of mine, many years ago, read my tarot cards. I don’t remember much about it, but I remember this: she turned over a card and looked at it, then looked at me.
“You have everything you need,” she said.
This morning, my fingers buried in unspooled tape, reaching beyond where I could see, I remembered those words again, those words I’ve forgotten time and time again, those words that come to me when I need them most, or, maybe, when I’m finally ready to hear them.