I have harvested precisely four wild raspberries.
It might sound like a pathetic showing but that represents a 400 percent increase over last summer, when whatever fruit was to be gotten was plucked by birds, small mammals and my landlord — who, of course, knew where they could be found on his own property and happened to be in town during the height of the season. He was here to make minor repairs to the deck, as I recall, and because the berries grow not far from the steps down into the yard, he was able to accomplish two jobs at once — one a little sweeter than the other.
In fairness, it should be mentioned that when I signed my lease, he had pointed out, generally, where I could expect to find the low bushes, so he wasn’t trying to hoard the harvest for himself. But I had my mind on other things, was consumed by moving and settling in strange surroundings, so wild red raspberries weren’t the first thing on my mind.
I probably would have missed them altogether again this year, except that a cashier at a local grocery store announced to me, as he was ringing through my produce and came upon pint boxes of fruit, that he had a banner harvest of blackberries this year. He wouldn’t have to purchase them for a few weeks, and that seemed to him a savings worth lording over the rest of us coupon-toting consumers.
I thought so, too. I was impressed enough to make a point of checking around the space in which raspberries have established themselves among the boulders and briar in the small clearing in the woods where I live. I think the wildlife have again this summer just about wiped out the crop on this property, but I will always have the reminder of those four sweet berries to prove that I didn’t miss out entirely.
It is only the hind end of July but I have been feeling fall straining at the bit already — in spite of the high humidity and blistering temperatures of the last few weeks. I installed a couple of window air conditioners in the little cabin where I live — an anomaly to the overall rugged appearance of things, I know — and on the hottest days I have retreated like a bear deep into the cave of one room in which it is possible to generate an Arctic feeling if the heat becomes Saharan.
I have spent a lot of time in that room during this month, but on recent mornings and evenings I have returned to my old habit of perching in front of the big wall of windows on the A-frame, in a wing chair positioned next to the wood stove stoked and ready to go when conditions demand it.
I look out into the forest, the impenetrable trees a mystery as large as life, though what I know — that my reliable neighbors are within earshot and short walking distance — is comfort enough in the canopy. Though I could not tell you which direction to take through the trees to reach human contact, I am reassured to know you could easily shout and summon help, for July has brought its limited era of heat so oppressive it seems it could crush any creature requiring a steady supply of water to survive.
But now, at month’s end, the sun already seems not quite as burning, the breezes indolent as Indian summer, the early and late sun of these days casting a light more like October than mid-summer.
Last week it was possible to sleep at night without a cold electric hum, and there were evenings when I even shut down the whirr of floor and window fans, preferring the end-of-day bird song and the chorus of crickets for music at dusk.
I alternate between the brittle fracturing that grief over the loss of my dog has imposed on me and the quiet exhilaration nature exudes at of this time of year. The margins of the farm fields and the edges of the railroad beds are nearly toppling over with the fullness of summer, life so robust it is almost too much to embrace.
I skirt the edges of the wild foliage and watch the progression of the milkweed in bloom, the sumac like fiery candles on the branches. The black-eyed Susans in spots along the roads are clustered checkerboards of gold and black, and I glimpse the first signs of goldenrod in the landscape.
In the next town, on a major but still quiet road, someone who runs a cottage industry in pie-making — available every Friday — has hung a “Gone Fishin’ ” pronouncement over the usual hand-printed sign hawking the oven’s wares.
Yard sale advertisements are still sprouting like weeds, posted on telephone poles, stuck into the earth on handmade spikes, and on weekends the philosophy of one-man’s-trash-is-another-man’s-treasure remains the law of the land. People barter and bicker over all sorts of stored-up “stuff” that either will sell or will be hauled to the landfill on Monday morning.
I make the rounds, ponder the purchase of a used grill, then remember that the mosquito and fly populations make my experience of dusk in southern Maine more like the Australian outback than the North American, up north, out-of-doors.
I broil steaks indoors, unless a picnic takes me to the rim of Casco’s tidal flats, and only when dinner hour, a good ocean breeze and high tide hit simultaneously do I brave the conditions of coastal dining.
Still, I am hanging onto every last opportunity to catalog the memories of summer. I see September in that sun, and I am astonished to realize that it won’t be long before I’ll be glad I left the wood stove prepped with paper and kindling, and planned a cord ahead of the cold that goes on and on in winter.
Nothing about the season seems endless but the promise that the cycles of the year will keep on spinning. These sun-spent days are just spokes in the wheel.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: