Do you remember the taste of strawberries?
Sprawled upon the ash-strewn rubble of Mt. Doom, choking with thirst, Frodo’s unremitting companion Sam tried to awaken his spirits with this question. Earlier, in the dark of Shelob’s lair, the voice of Galadriel had reminded Frodo, ‘there is a light when all other lights go out.” Then Frodo reached for and found her gift, the phial, the light of the star of Earendil, saving him from the encroaching 8-legged terror. But on the slopes of Mt. Doom, where the Evil Lord birthed the One Ring, all other powers were subdued, even the starglass. Never quitting, Sam offered, in his simple question, what light he had. Not only the light of enduring friendship, but the light of hope. Of home. But this time Frodo was too far gone. The One Ring had taken him. “No Sam. I cannot recall the sound of water. Or the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There is no veil between me and wheel of fire.”
This week I was offered the same light Sam offered Frodo on Mt. Doom. I may not have been choking with thirst or hunted by a house-sized spider, but I was falling under the spell of the One Ring, sometimes losing my better self. On April 29 I voluntarily walked away from the security of a well-paid job at Medtronic. Harder yet, I walked away from the smiling faces of my amazing, engaging colleagues. For three months I toiled---scraping and stripping glue, painting trim and walls, renting alien furniture ---prepping our house for sale. And all under a relentless gray sky. Three months of April rain.
Suddenly that seemed done.
“Let’s pick strawberries!” Linda said to me.
Unlike Frodo, I was not too far gone. “OK,” I muttered knowing full well the effort ahead: 36 hours of red-stained hands, sinks, countertops and cookie sheets. Yet when we arrived at Silkey Gardens and my knees fell upon the straw between the green rows, I felt life return. Without asking it to, my hand brushed aside leaf and vine. A flash of red excited my eyes. Then my middle and index fingers knew exactly what to do. Slipping behind the fleshy shoulders, one finger on each side of the stem, they gently squeezed. Snap!
There it was, green-hatted-strawberry, gleaming red in the sun. Yes, the sun had returned! But now was not the time for such savoring. Pop! Into my mouth. For a moment I could not even comprehend, could not contain all the juicy, chin-dripping joy. Then Ho! My! Gosh!
Sunlight. I was tasting sunlight. So warm. So uplifting. So much energy pulsing down my arms. My hands, still weary from house prep. My picking fingers. Soon, the white box between my knees brimmed with little Early Glows, seemingly filling itself as I got drunk on the strawberry smell. As always, we returned with more than the thirty pounds we’d intended. I mean those big Brunswicks so easily fill a box; you felt sorry for the failing Mesabi vines, and then there’s sweeter-than-sweet Sparkle! Linda’s favorite. Heaven made manifest on a vine.
39.3 pounds. Two hours to pick. Ten hours to wash, core, dry, semi-freeze on cookie sheets, and freezer bag. And all along their journey to our upright basement freezer, they sustained us. Grazing strawberries while we pick (how else do you know the good ones?). Spoon-smushed strawberries in my roasted sunflower seed snack. Sitting on the deck, we toast the next-door-Pride-party with our dazzlingly red strawberry margaritas. And finally, the salad. Red upon green, lettuce and fennel and mint fresh from our Rock Springs Farm CSA box.
When Sam offered Frodo the opportunity to remember the taste of strawberries, he was indeed offering a light, every bit as magical and powerful as the phial of Galadriel. So Linda did for me. The light of hope rekindled within my mind. The life-giving light of the sun, harvested by strawberry leaves and pumped like sugary blood into the berries (and into me). The light of the first massive stars---who in their supernova death throes created all the elements heavier than iron---still twinkles in the palm of my hand, putting the sparkle in Sparkle.
And the light of welcoming community: Wise farmer Paul, his jam-jarring mom Grace, all the berry-stained ‘hired hands’, even little Carson buzzing like a bee as we bounced together in the back of the golf cart shuttle.
House no longer ours on Aug 1, we’ve rented a one room cabin from our dear neighbor Kim right across the road from the Land. Though only 20x20 we’ve allocated a goodly amount of the precious space to a our old chest freezer. One purpose.
Come February, snow leaning on the north side our cabin, how better to invite summer inside than a strawberry smoothie? Engage new life. Maintain what matters.
In the glory of my final days, when all other lights seem to fade, may I be invited, coaxed by my dearest ones, to remember the taste of strawberries. There is a light when all other lights go out.