I lang hae thought, my youthfu' friend,
A something to have sent you,
Tho' it should serve nae ither end
Than just a kind memento:
But how the subject-theme may gang,
Let time and chance determine:
Perhaps it may turn out a sang;
Perhaps, turn out a sermon...
(from Letter to a Young Friend by Robert Burns, 1759-1796)
More moons ago than I care to count, my dad and I hiked into a German pine forest and emerged hours later with pails of wild blueberries. It was a ritual repeated each summer that we lived overseas and one that continued in a similar vein years later with my own children, though the later harvests came from a commercial operation rather than gleaned from the woods. The time we--my dad and I--spent picking the wild berries was interspersed with tales of hardship and bounty, sorrow and joy. I learned on those woodland walks to make cooing sounds like a dove with my cupped hands, to whistle with my thumb and forefinger as loudly as any boy could, and to cherish a father's childhood stories rarely shared outside of those special times.
...Ye'll try the world fu' soon, my lad;
And, Andrew dear, believe me,
Ye'll find mankind an unco squad,
And muckle they may grieve ye:
For care and trouble set your thought,
Ev'n when your end's attained:
And a' your views may come to nought,
Where every nerve is strained...
Our few bushes at home haven't yet reached the age where we can harvest pails full, so Secret Aging Man and I went a couple of Saturdays ago to Lundy Blueberry Patch north of Milton, Florida. It's one of those commercial operations, but the people who own and run it are generous to a fault with their berries and free advice. Dr. Lundy is a Master Gardener, no less, and encourages the pickers to try as many berries out of hand as they want from the various varieties he cultivates. How else is one to know which of them is the sweetest and most flavorful? We tried Tifblue, Brightwell, and Powderblue. SAM thought the Brightwell was best, while I gorged myself on and picked mostly Powderblue.
I'll no say, men are villains a':
The real, harden'd wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
Are to a few restricked;
But, och! mankind are unco weak
An' little to be trusted;
If Self the wavering balance shake,
It's rarely right adjusted!
Yet they what fa' in Fortune's strife,
Their fate we should na censure;
For still, th' important end of life
They equally may answer:
A man may hae an honest heart,
Tho' poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neebor's part,
Yet hae nae cash to spare him.
Ay free, aff han', your story tell,
When wi' a bosom cronie;
But still keep something to yoursel
Ye scarcely tell to onie:
Conceal yoursel as weel's ye can
Frae critical dissection:
But keek thro' every other man
Wi' sharpen'd, sly inspection.
The sacred lowe o' weel-plac'd love,
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th' illicit rove,
Tho' naething should divulge it:
I waive the quantum o' the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But, och! it hardens a' within,
And petrifies the feeling!
To catch Dame Fortune's golden smile,
Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by every wile
That's justify'd by honour:
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train-attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent...
The bushes at Lundy's farm are well-tended and drip-irrigated when necessary. As this University of Florida article suggests, blueberries are fairly easy to grow and maintain if a few simple guidelines are followed. After waiting for so long to grow my own blueberries--two major hurricane years in 2004 and 2005, wedding planning for Son in 2006, finishing English degree in 2007, moving to Illinois in 2008 and then back again the same year--I was eager to jump right in and get my feet wet. Being a little wet behind the gardening ears, though, I should have done some research when we planted the bushes early last spring. Then I might have picked off the blossoms last year and this spring to let the plants develop vegetatively and to encourage a strong root system. I also would not have planted several of them close to the pool discharge pipe because I would have read that they are sensitive to chlorine. At least I chose a few different varieties--though what their names are, I have no idea--from the farm in Alabama where we dug the suckers that we planted. I have learned something over the years: blueberry pollination is more successful if the pollinators have a choice of bushes to visit.
...The fear o' Hell's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that ay be your border:
Its slightest touches, instant pause--
Debar a' side-pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
The great Creator to revere
Must sure become the creature;
But still the preaching can't forbear
And ev'n the rigid feature:
Yet ne'er with wits profane to range
Be complaisance extended;
An atheist-laugh's a poor exchange
For Deity offended!
When ranting round in Pleasure's ring,
Religion may be blinded;
Or if she gie a random sting,
It may be little minded;
But when on Life we're tempest-driv'n--
A conscience but a canker--
A correspondence fix'd wi' Heav'n
Is sure a noble anchor!...
It seems that even universities not involved in promoting horticulture are jumping on the gardening bandwagon these days. The latest alumni mag from my alma mater proves that it is no exception. And why not? Gardening offers a rich source of marketing metaphors. Who wouldn't want to "grow success"? It can be a slow, arduous, painful, humbling experience, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Thank you, Dad, for all of those blueberry-picking-time "letters" you wrote.
Adieu, dear, amiable youth!
Your heart can ne'er be wanting!
May prudence, fortitude, and truth,
Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phrase, "God send you speed,"
Still daily to grow wiser;
And may ye better reck the rede,
Than ever did th' adviser!