I’m just back from Vermont, where it felt like real summer: lots of swimming and cooking over the outside fire in the evening.
When Simone, my 14-year-old, and I were walking on the path around our field, we looked down at our feet and noticed tiny wild strawberries! We’d seen the little white strawberry flowers earlier in the spring, but have never picked wild strawberries on our land before.
The strawberries were a third the size of my pinky nail, bright red and deliciously sweet and tasty—much sweeter and tastier than most of the huge strawberries we can get year-round in the grocery stores.
As we walked around the field, we kept our eyes open for more and didn’t see many at first, but when we crouched down low and looked under the low-lying leaves, there were thousands, little bright red dots, scattered in different patches. We ate and ate and then went and got containers and picked some to eat later.
I felt like this was a reminder of much that is tasty and sweet in life: when we look directly for it, we often miss it, but when we crouch down low and look more closely, great delights often meet us.
Picking the strawberries on a perfect summer day, the sky blue above us, birds chirping overhead, I felt so lucky.
Part of that luckiness was an awareness of privilege: I’m very privileged to be able to have a place in the country to go to (the cabin itself is tiny, and we own the place with two other families, but it’s also a huge privilege) I’m very lucky to be healthy, to have healthy children; to be able to take time off from work; to not be living in a war zone; to not be, in this moment, affected by floods or fires or droughts; the list goes on and on.
But part of that awareness was also just great appreciation—for the land, for the world that offers ripe things for us to eat growing from the ground, for the simple connections that we can have with the people we love, for the pleasures of the body.
Even as the ice caps are melting, as great injustices are being committed and there is much suffering, it’s also essential that we make space to pause and notice the beauty that is also around and within us.
It’s not one or the other: appreciation without action or action without appreciation. For me, the two feed each other. We act for the climate, for justice BECAUSE we appreciate the earth and because we appreciate the value and dignity of human life.
July 4th is supposed to commemorate freedom: may you commemorate your own freedom to love and to appreciate, to be loved and to be appreciated, and to create the conditions for the fruits and freedoms of human life for all of us around us.
Picking strawberries also reminded me of a wonderful mindful poem by Ellen Bass, which I’ve included below.
Relax by Ellen Bass
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
If you liked this piece, you might also like my piece about spirituality, social justice, poetry and presence: https://nadiacolburn.com/poetry-pain-and-wholeness