My words on the page refuse to line up, like two-year-olds throwing tantrums. I scramble their order, an attempt to make them dance. But where one should waltz, it jigs a syncopation. Where another should sing, it growls a tuneless monotone. Better to walk, ignore their conniptions. Perhaps these words will behave after a time-out.
It is late July, mulberry season in Wisconsin, and I know where the berries grow low and sweet. I lace my red Nikes, shuffle a playlist, and pull on sunglasses. The tree, a mile and a half from my house, is a candy shop in the woods where treats are free, but only for a few weeks.
At 88 degrees, the air hangs heavy, like steamed wool, as I power-walk to the park. The 70% humidity trickles a stream down my back. I dash across traffic and enter the grounds where wildflowers line its perimeter. The scent of lighter fluid reaches me first. Then the smoke of grilled steak, fat crisping at the edges. Today, picnic tables live under trees, coolers stashed beneath. The sand beach is scattered with shade umbrellas, but few people sit there, the pond filled with parents tossing beach balls, children squirting water guns and bikini-clad teens diving into weeds.
I climb a chipped bark trail where trees arch the uphill path. On my left, the dog park is deserted, and I imagine the usual visitors at home in air-conditioned rooms. On the wood plank bridge, the breeze smells of dead wood and mossy stumps.
Across a road, mulberries, some puny and pink, others plump and black, peek from low-hanging branches. I cross the lane, then snatch some within reach. They are tiny and not as lush as my imagination expected. Further back, a foot above my head, the beauties dangle. I descend into the brush where lumps of turf disrupt my steps and grasses itch my knees. On tiptoe, I snag a leaf and draw its branch close. Already, my tongue imagines the sugar, the liquid squish from each aggregate of drupelets, the thin woody stem. I retract one leaf, then another, extend my arm and prepare thumb and forefinger. A gust blows up my shirt and cools my back. In focused deliberation, the sun is forgotten. I steady the limb, reach one more inch and cup my palm. Gently now, with a final stretch, I brush back foliage, touch forefinger to fruit, and just before I pluck, the berry drops, lost to the underbrush.
I think of the morning’s words that, with each attempt at capture, tumbled away. The rough terrain of grammar and clarity and theme. The literary branches, bare of robust verbs. The forest of phrases, not as grand as I hoped.
Now, I advance toward another clump of berries; with concentration, I contain my clumsiness, fortify my patience. Culled slowly, one at a time, 20 berries are my reward. Some appear ripe, but sting when bitten, hard and sharp. Others taste mellow and mature, but lack succulence. A few, fleshy, sugary, spurting rosy liquor, taste as delectable as they look. No need for a bowlful; a handful satisfies.
My walk home is downhill under a cover of oak trees. Mulberry juice coats my throat. A ruby-black stain tips my fingers. Several times, when steps jog an idea, I pause to jot notes on my phone. A new expression, fresh language, the incarnation of a motif.
At home, my computer dings, illuminating the puzzle of sentences. My fingers punch the keys, tap the space bar, cursor the thesaurus. The wordy hissy-fits are calmed, misguided narration revealed, pointless phrases exposed. Cut and paste, insert, delete. Reorder, revise, redo.
My husband returns from his golf game and knocks on my office door. “I bought blueberries from the farmer.” He hands me a cup, mounded full. “There’s another two pints in the fridge.”
I examine the berries someone else picked. Voluptuous and purple-blue, the best ones are easy to spot. The soft mushy ones too. I pop two or three at a time, barely noticing which are which and they disappear. How easy to consume quickly, without considering the labor of their harvest.
Then it’s back to work, hunting, exploring, examining, in search of the perfect morsel, salty or sparkling, peppery or tart.
Nancy Jorgensen is a Wisconsin musician and writer. Her 2019 memoir, Go, Gwen, Go: A Family's Journey to Olympic Gold, is published by Meyer & Meyer Sport. Her choral education books are published by Hal Leonard Corporation and Lorenz Corporation. Other works appear at Prime Number Magazine, Cagibi, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CHEAP POP, Brevity blog and elsewhere. Her website is NancyJorgensen.weebly.com.
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