The phone rings. My friend asks me if I’d like to go pick blueberries with her, she’s in her car downstairs, waiting to see if I’d like to come along.
I’ve never picked blueberries. It’s late in the afternoon. The weather’s unseasonably mild, so I say yes, run downstairs, and join her in her daisy covered white Volkswagen.
We meander through the Maine hills, following painted signs: wooden signs painted in bright yellow, decorated with a single, over-sized large blueberry on each, “U Pick” lettered in black with arrows leading the way. These signs are unlike most in these rural, economically depressed parts, where commerce is commonly expressed in make-shift, piecemeal, ripped cardboard with haphazard lettering, the carelessness testifying to inexperience coupled to hopelessness. Not so these placards, bright and welcoming. Not professional, but caring with their bright yellow backgrounds and gigantic blueberry portraits.
We turn left, go up a hill, and a large house with a gazebo stands at the top. Around it are hundreds and hundreds of blueberry bushes, acres and acres full of berries. From the hill-top we have a vista view of the mountains. “Are those the White Mountains,” I ask my friend. “I don’t know,” she says, looking around, trying to get an idea of which range we might be facing. Sunlight in broad beaming shafts cuts through rain clouds and lights the mountains’ sides, the sky uncertain if it will rain or shine. We get out of the car, go to the porch, the owners make their friendly introductions, give us each a decapitated milk jug to fill as we wish. “Three-fifty a pound,” the wife says, with a broad smile.
We wander down into the rows, our paths diverging, as we enter into our own worlds. My fingers begin their first berry picking experience. Immediately I realize that I need to pay attention, or I’ll pick unripe berries with the ripe ones. Attention, and a deliberate use of my fingers in separating berry from berry, and berry from bush; a new skill born. Fingers meet berries, one by one, blue spheres like soft japa beads on a mala string, my fingers acquire nimbleness in this mediation.
Meditation. Yes. That’s what this is. I pick blueberries one by one, and realize that there are only these berries, my fingers, the moment in which I separate ripe berry from bush, leaving the young ones to mature. A breeze blows through my hair, and cuts the humidity. I am serene, feeling nothing but the moment blowing through me like a cool breeze under a gentle though humid sun. I look at the mountains. It doesn’t matter what mountains they are any more; they are what they are, and I am what I am, and this moment is as it is.
Presence. Presence everywhere. I begin forming words around the moment, know the meditation will continue as words strung together, a mala of words, as my fingers caress berries, filling a topless gallon milk jug finger by finger.
My mind and heart live, blueberry by blueberry, the dissolve of my self into berries, moment, land, sky, mountains, Mystery, my love. My fingers pray with these blue japa beads, my mind caresses the quiet joy of everything in unbound appreciation, knows only the sweetness that blue-purple stained fingers offer, fingers stained berry by berry, fingers blue-purple in shining Presence, until Presence returns to time under the weight of a full milk jug.
My friend and I unceremoniously wander back to each other, in unspoken synchronicity, our jugs full.
“It doesn’t matter what mountains those are, does it,” I say to her.
“No, it doesn’t,” she answers, in unquestioned, knowing agreement.