When my neighbor LC passed away, he left a son, a motorcycle, a tangled will, and a small collection of very fine old fruit trees. Fleeing the wrath of avaricious relatives, LC’s wife by all laws of nature paused to tell me, hoeing a potato bed out of the lawn, that I should take as many cherries as I liked. Then she gave me a dog and left, but that’s another story.
In the late afternoon, then, with the sun slanting goldenrod over the warm grass and every winged insect in the hollow buzzing with the life of a rainshower and a cloudbreak, I strolled up the empty drive carrying a bucket. Strange to see the compound of ramshackle garages and shacks left derelict. Open doors, hinges askew, gaping onto rickety beds and belongings half-assembled, half-abandoned. The only sounds the murmur of the towhees and the clack of falling catalpa pods onto corrugated tin. This was a place for fires, and sitting around on cinderblocks and plastic patio chairs drinking unspeakable beverages and telling jokes until the stars outnumbered the fireflies. Many dog prints in the mud.
“They’re a lot more like the Bushmen than you might think,” my landlord said, in that disingenuous way of his. Coming from anyone else, that might sound a little demeaning, but Joe’s been out to the back of beyond in Botswana, and he has friends there on the ground, Naro people he really looks up to. “The most striking thing about them- and there are a lot of striking things-” someone else, talking about the Bushmen, “is the wave of good feeling that precedes them wherever they go. You know how when you’re out in the woods sometimes you’ll feel a wave of tension or edginess, and when you look around you realize there’s a Cooper’s hawk or a bobcat staring at you? Instead, you’ll be out in the bush, and suddenly you’ll get this warm fuzzy feeling all over, and then sure enough one of these guys comes walking around the corner with a big grin on his face. It’s incredible.” What comes of living in rustic straits, I guess; you learn that kindness gets you farther than being grabby.
I remember one evening, LC paused on the riding mower and both of us watching mayflies trying to lay eggs on the hood of my car. “I look around at all this,” he says to me, “and I thank God for the gift of being alive another day.” There’s a Mohawk morning song I heard that goes pretty much the same way. Everyone’s carrying some vital piece of the whole holy puzzle, and nobody needs all of it because we’ve all got some of it, enough of it. I’ve got a little sliver of heart-of-the-world knowing, and you’ve got some too.
The cherry tree, despite numerous near-catastrophes with motorcycles and motorcyclists over the years, sprawled many-trunked and stately at the center of the yard. The cherries were so dark I didn’t see them at first, mistaking them for shadows in the leaves. “Dark as nightfall and sweet as kisses.” Don’t remember who told me that about them, might not even have been the same cherry-tree. You get different cherries every year from the same tree, different water every time you dip your cup in the creek; every word spoken is spoken for the first time. I gathered a mess of cherries today, and will likely do the same again tomorrow. Some I’ll eat fresh, some I’ll dry, some I’ll give to the other neighbors.
When the bush cherries in my yard are older, I’ll bake those into pies. And in the fall the persimmon tree will have persimmon fruit on it, and in the wintertime the meadow will have died back to stubble. Every year, brand new cherries.