On Friday I went blueberry picking in Floyd County with my friend Patty. We pulled down two baskets hanging from the beam of her kitchen, put the dog in the back seat, and headed down Laurel Hill Drive. We drove and drove, wind blowing in our hair, through farm land, meadows, gnarled forests,  sunny expanses. The road curved and dipped. The blue mountain ridges on our right and left curved and dipped. I couldn’t believe how varied the topography was. Low and high, smooth and rough, straight lines and wild lines.

The paved road became a gravel road, and the gravel road became a dirt road. Narrower and narrower our path became. Higher and higher the trees rose above our heads, as if they would eat us.

Finally we came to a small house, pulled up a steep hill, and saw the blueberry bushes. We walked up to a small table set up at the front of the field. Only trusted locals know about this place. They can be depended upon to put their money in the mason jar, ten dollars per gallon, including all the berries you can eat in the patch. Patty showed me how to sling on the blueberry bucket with a rope.

Rows of seven-foot-tall bushes rustled in the breeze, framed by bright blue sky. We trudged to the top and started picking. Clustered together in bunches, the berries drew our eyes with their color – deep river blue with shadows of purple. Firm berries plopped into our buckets. And as we worked we talked about life, the dreams and the particulars, told stories, and sometimes fell silent. From across the rows we could hear other people, neighbors and friends conversing. We distinguished their voices by various accents, tones, and timbres, and formed pictures in our minds of their owners. We never saw any them.

I met Tom, the farmer, a tall man with a red face and a big hat and a direct gaze. He worked on the opposite side of the bush, leaning in every few minutes to pour in a handful of berries. He said the bushes were 25 years old. I told him I was the same age. He said he also grew apples, and gave me an assignment to try a new variety called Honey Crisp. “Bad name,” he said, “but good apple.”

Tom cares about making good berries more than making lots of money. He wants to feed his neighbors well. He takes care of the soil and the ecosystem with organic practices. Everyone who eats his berries knows his name.

How good it is to work side by side with a friend, out in the sun and fresh air, surrounded by abundance, standing on land that is wisely cared for and well-loved.

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