Acquiring Minds

June 20, 2015

The woods were alive with insect songs, and frogs the size of a fingernail hopped across the road. The swamp below was filled with coffee and cream water, and the houses on Scotch Jimmy Island were flooded. Black-crowned night herons perched along the cottonwood treetops and squawked. Hummingbirds were out in numbers.

Now that I’m in mountain climbing shape, Stroke Hill on Stanka Lane seems less stroky. I bounded up the slope past swooshes of orange tiger lilies and trumpet flowers, past black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers and blue cornflowers and rows of perfumed Queen Anne’s lace, headed for Farmer Orville’s house to tell him and his wife Quilt Queen the news: This morning the Genehouse garden yielded five red cherry tomatoes.

And last night’s bag of Fritos Roasted Peanuts had a surprise inside: a piece of fired clay pottery from Georgia, from ancient pot makers. I landed quite a few Cracker Jack prizes back in the day, but this was the prize of prizes. I reached for a peanut shell and grabbed the pottery shard.

The talk turned to bees, and Orville told this story: “I was mowin’ by the neighbors’ house and they had an old rusted car next to their driveway, and when I passed that junker on the mower, a wasp rose up from the front window and eyeballed me, but nothin’ happened. I went around the car to get turned around, and here come a whole hive of hornets out the back window and they attacked me—stung me all round my hat brim, the eyes, my nose, my big ears.”

“Stop right there,” Quilt Queen said. “Gene doesn’t have to hear the second part.”

“So that night,” Orville droned, “I got to feelin’ really lousy, and I got up—I was stark naked—and I went downstairs to the bathroom, and stuff come out both ends of me. I mean diarrhea and vomit. Damn hornets.”

“Too much information,” Quilt Queen said “I have seen you naked, and no one else wants to.”

Orville and I and Reba the dog walked out into the kale field and cut fresh green kale and purple Russian kale. And then we crossed to the blackberry bushes. The rows were studded with red berries.

“I’ll be damned,” my friend said, pointing along one middle row. “Never happened in June before.”

Small clumps of ripe blackberries hung from the bush tops, and we picked and ate them. I held that first berry in my mawmouth and thought back to last summer, the last blackberry, the last tomato. And here we were at the beginning again, berry juice drizzling down our throats.

Reba wheeled in the weeds and dove and came up with a ground squirrel, the hapless creature swallowed whole, the black-striped squirrel tail dangling from the dog’s mouth like a rearview mirror ornament, the dog trotting to us for approval, the tail swaying back and forth in her jaws.

“It is an acquired taste,” Orville said. “I caught them damn barn cats with Carolina wrens in their mouths, and I smacked their butts and pried the birds out their teeth and the birds flew off.”

Calhoun County peaches are coming, and blueberries are here, and my cherry tomato plants hang thick with green fruit, and mulberries dangle from low-hanging branches and green beans and kale and cucumbers and lettuce sprout and sweet corn is chest high and ground squirrels taste like chicken.

This is the season for acquiring tastes.

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