I leave the cottage on my foraging trip in full gear. A pot, a scarf, a long-sleeve shirt, pants, a layer of insect repellent. I am going hunting again for berries.
This is excess season here. For just a week or two, the late blueberries, the middle-aged raspberries, the early blackberries, all overlap and overwhelm this environment. They draw me into the edible world like lollipops on a Disney tree would lure a rural child.
I consider the buffet before me. The blueberries exact a price in time and stooping. The raspberries will disintegrate in my hands en route to my pot. The bushes of blackberries, the most aggressive fruit in this country, will attack the nearest poacher with an arsenal of thorns.
Today, muffins on my mind, I go for the blues. Like a volunteer in the ecological chain, a missing link, I squat here, eating berries, being eaten by mosquitoes.
I don't know exactly why it is peaceful kneeling in some berry patch, the knees of my jeans stained with purple, working the territory side by side with the bees. I am not a country woman. Not since 10 have I ventured outside an eight-hour radius of indoor plumbing.
But summer after summer, like others, I come to the country to visit nature the way some tourists visit monuments. In the city, we must keep off the grass; in the country, we walk on the land. In the city, we control environments, even weather; in the country, we accommodate.
Our ancestors probably took delight in the rarity of cultivated gardens; we take delight in the rarity of wildflowers. Our ancestors tried to escape from a hand-to-mouth existence; how many of us escape into it.
I know how absurd this must sound to a country native, but many members of the urban world of displaced persons never get over the notion of free food. I have a continual sense of wonder that here I can walk out our door and collect food. I can dig for clams, cast for mackerel, lift the seaweed for mussels, and collect these blue eight-millimeter pearls that now roll into my pot.
In the city, people work all week for money in order to trade it for food. We buy food from people who have bought food from people who have bought food from people who may actually have planted it and picked it.
Is it any wonder that we treat our home-grown tomatoes like prima donnas, offering them to neighbors in return for praise of "our" achievements?
My own work is as indirect as any. I put food on the table with words. It's an odd barter, but perhaps no odder than that of people who make policy or laws or Rubik's Cubes or the thousand other oddities that come with this civilization.
In our time, work is often and peculiarly disconnected from the fundamentals of food and shelter. We are as distant from reality as the children who think that money comes from the machine at the bank.
But today, I make my "living" in the bushes. Hand to mouth.
I am hardly living off the land. Nor will I draw pretty pictures of farm labor. One of life's ironies is that the people who harvest food earn the least. The berries in my pot, an hour's labor, might be worth a dollar. How many of our grandparents or great-grandparents who worked with their hands longed to escape such drudgery.
But for just a little while, it's worth remembering that we all do live off the land. For just a little while, I am not a tourist in another world, buying souvenirs at the supermarket. Creeping carefully along this ground, harvesting my small wild crop, I have a sense of place. This place, my place.
I walk home from the bushes with my pot of pearls, scratching my mosquito bites, nibbling my catch, as proud as any other hunter. Today I walk like a native on this earth.