Archive for July 2011
One of my favourite places to be is a blueberry field. Nothing is better than lying on your back between islands of blueberry bushes, watching clouds build in the sky and munching on newly picked blueberries.
When I was young, I spent lots of time picking blueberries with my Dad, in the pasture behind my grandfather’s farm. I can still see his hands deftly stripping berries from each branch, and hear the staccato ripple of berries filling his pail. My picking was considerably slower and less productive. In my pail, the berries spoke in single plinks, each separated by several seconds of silence.
Later, when I was a teenager, I went once with my Mom to pick blueberries on our neighbour’s hillside. My berry picking skills had not improved and I know I ate more than I picked. But how I wish I could spend, just one more time, that afternoon with my Mom, picking blueberries on a sun-washed hill.
Today, I pick blueberries every summer, in the field near our cottage. Since I am usually the only one picking, I now aim to be efficient. Sometimes I use my blueberry rake to strip the berries from the branches, quickly and with little waste. Of course, this means picking through the berries by hand, removing leaves and other debris. But the ripe berries are still blue and sweet, and plump with the warmth and fragrance of August.
This poem is in remembrance of my Mom and our afternoon of picking blueberries:
of all the silvery summer days we spent none so warm sun on
granite boulders round blue berry field miles across hazy miles
away from hearing anything but bees
plopping in the pail
beside you I draped my lazy bones on bushes crushed berries and
thick red leaves over moss dark animal trails nudged between rocks
baking berries brown musk rising to meet blue heat
or the still fleet scent
of a waxy berry bell
melting in my mouth crammed with fruit sometimes pulled from
laden stems more often scooped from your pail full ripe blue pulp
and the bitter shock of a hard green berry never ripe
or a shield bug
with frantic legs
and an edge to her shell
Published as: ‘Bitter Blue’, Summer 1993, The Amethyst Review 1 (2)
© Jane TimsWarning: 1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification; 2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives; 3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
In biology, ‘niche’ refers to the space occupied by a plant or an animal. ‘Niche’ is the sum total of the habitat needs of a plant or animal – physical, nutritional, and biological. For example, the wild strawberries in our field grow where the moisture, sunlight and soil are just right. ‘Niche’ also includes the role the wild strawberries play in the ecosystem, the way its fruit and leaves provide food for insects, field mice and birds.
In human terms, ‘niche’ can be a metaphor for personal space, home, or community. My best space to live is in the country, where I can garden, be near to woods and water, and escape from urban noise. When I am in my right ‘niche’, I contribute best to my family and to the community where I live.
In my experience, ‘niche’ is not stagnant but changes, hour to hour, day to day, season to season. One way of looking at the timeline of life is to think of it as a sequence of niche-spaces lived-in, sought after, avoided, encountered, or discovered.
The place where I am also influences how I feel. Stress occurs when ‘niche’ does not quite fit. Comfort is discovering a space answering all my ‘niche-needs’. Sadness is in trying to return to a space once occupied but no longer available. Conflict can occur when I have trouble sharing my space with others.
Contentment is finding and inhabiting a space that is, if not perfect, at least mine.
This blog space will be devoted to poetry and prose about ‘niche’. I’ll include poems and stories about human space: home and away, past and present. I’ll write to explore some of the place-based themes I love: laughing and talking with friends, growing and gathering food, wandering in forest and field, and travelling to other places. Because I am a biologist, I’ll also write about wild plants and animals, and the spaces where they live and interact with one another.
Visit often, because I love to write and I’ll have regular updates. For now, tell me about your best place, your ‘niche’, the place where you belong.