Grist for the Mill
It’s 80° at dawn.
I hustle the kids out of bed and into their grubby clothes, pack the sunscreen and the baseball caps, bribe them with promises of car doughnuts for breakfast. The trick is not to be too specific about where we’re going, just doughnuts and breakfast and vague mom errands, back by afternoon. If they’re sleepy, if they haven’t had doughnuts in a while, this is enough. As we pull into the drive-thru, they’re barely awake enough to order, but before we’re halfway to Dacusville, they’re sugared up, ready to go, halfheartedly fighting over what song to play next on the radio.
The problem with blueberry season is not the blueberries. Everybody loves blueberries: sun-warmed and fat, ripe on the bush, berries you pick yourself are a revelation in flavor. (The grocery store makes you forget.)
The problem with blueberry season is the season. And the fact the things are so damned small, the boxes so big. We’ve spent hours at the Happy Berry to pick a gallon, the sun creeping higher and the dead-calm drone of cicadas like some kind of heat stroke battle cry. It’s so hot you sweat from places you didn’t know could sweat, and the children. The children slow down, stop, begin to whine, and like a grenade after you pull the pin, you have about 90 seconds to keep picking before they turn on each other, and somebody is going to get hurt.
Summer in the South is the season that tests us, like lake effect snowstorms and hurricanes in other places. Summer down here shows you what you’re made of. But it’s also the height of our wildly productive growing season, and summer goes down a little easier for me the more peaches and tomatoes and watermelons I eat, when I take the time to pick berries and figs, when I think ahead to the markets, now cropping up throughout the week like in Greer and Taylors (page 12), as well as the usual Saturday extravaganzas.
And as for edible Upcountry, summer makes for our most beautiful issues. In these pages, I learned about our native passionflower and the tart-tropical fruit it bears (page 25), how to give my sweet tea an even sweeter kick (page 40), and the origins of picnic blankets (page 52). Maybe not your conventional survival tools, but certainly tricks of the trade.
So get up early and drag your people with you. Pack a lunch, and find some water that runs cold. Throw a sunset porch party. Plan to take your time, and let the season soak in.