Right off the Branches

A distant roll of thunder did not dissuade them. They bumped along the rutted road, past the white-boxed beehives, through mud kicking up at the tractor’s wheels and alongside the low raspberry plants, where people bent in crouches, freeing soft furry berries from the sharp tack of the bush.

Far along at the back of the grove, they rolled to a stop. The older children climbed down. The mother stepped off, reached for the baby at the top of the steps. He went to her in the way that children have of fully trusting the most familiar person. Like water’s easy flow down a forest ravine, coursing from source to source.

The tractor rolled away, completing its circle. The people ambled between rows of bushes tall enough to muffle sound from the next row.

Each child swayed a white plastic bucket. The grass underfoot was wet. “Pick the blue ones,” the mother told the baby. “Not the green ones.” The baby reached for a low branch, slid a just-picked blueberry into his mouth. None dropped into his bucket.

In the distance, more thunder grumbled its call. Another mother looked at the gray sky. She listened for another tractor but the road was still. “We could walk back,” one of the older boys suggested.

“If we get wet, we’ll have a story to tell,” the young mother told her children. And they were comforted by her voice.

Around the kitchen table later, their small hands reached into the bowl for taste-popping berries they had just picked in the quiet orchard. The kitchen was silent. Outside, the rush of the highway traffic a mile away sounded like a fast river the mother remembered from Wyoming.

The taste of summer on their tongues. A forever imprint.

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