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The Week of Strawberries

by Stephen Rodriguez, AMI Fellow

Bluet flowers bloom all through the grass surrounding the calm, dark pond, each showing four delicate, sky-blue petals and a warm yellow center. It is the soothing end of another productive day spent gardening, watering, weeding, recordkeeping and caring for chickens. Every day here is an immeasurable gift - the purity of the air, the sweetness of the fresh spring water, the presence of the mountain wildlife, the enthusiasm and generosity of my cohort. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life far away from these people and things, yet somehow I feel as if I’ve know this place for centuries, as if the trees that I touched and climbed as a young boy in Kentucky were silently communicating with the trees of this mountain, through some vast unknowable network of roots and fungi.

I’ve come to think of this past week as the week of strawberries. On Saturday I spent the morning picking strawberries at Church Hill Produce farm with AMI’s Village Manager, Maggie, and two other fellows, Grayson and Elora. I found so much joy in walking, bucket in hand, down the long beds of healthy plants, whose bright green leaves hid plump, red strawberries.

Strawberry Harvest – Photo by Stephen Rodriguez

At the same time, I couldn’t help but recall my father’s accounts of picking strawberries in farmers’ fields when he was a boy of five, earning a nickel for every pint of fruit he collected. In the Library of Congress are some of Marion Post Wolcott’s photos of my great grandparents and their small rural cottage. This photo of my great grandfather, a Mexican coal miner living in West Virginia, has gradually taken on more and more layers of significance since I first saw it as an undergraduate student at OSU. What does it mean for me to seek a simpler lifestyle? What does it mean for me to harvest food and resources from the earth?

Great Grandfather - Photo by Marion Post Wolcott, September 1938

Great Grandmother– Photo by Marion Post Wolcott, September 1938

Of the strawberries we picked, we ate one-third fresh, preserved one-third for our own future use, and preserved one-third for future AMI fellows. When it came to preserving the strawberries, we chose to freeze some of them and to turn some of them into jam, a process which involves boiling them. In a way, it’s as if we sent some of these spring fruits into an artificial winter, and others into an artificial summer. I feel compelled to do something similar with my time here – freezing some memories in photographs and boiling other memories down to basic diary entries. Ultimately though, neither of these methods preserves the strawberry plant itself. I’ve come to realize that only by saving the strawberry seeds—the precious insights and the things I’ve learned by heart, a kind of muscle memory—may I carry the plump, red strawberries with me fully intact, wherever I go.

Bluets – Photo by Stephen Rodriguez

As I sit in the grass beside the pond, the eternal breath of life ripples the edges of the water and stirs in my lungs, never pausing and never aging. The bluets will fade in time and in time will return again. A bee fly visits a nearby crowd of bluets, feeds itself, and departs. This is the kind of permanent agriculture that has taken hold of my imagination and filled me with wonder. This is the dream that carries me through the night.

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