The Summer Proper
Long days, best days
I started this on the solstice, the beginning of my favorite days of all the year. On the same day, I picked the first black raspberries of the season from the wild brambles skirting the yard. They’re my favorite fruit, sweet and tangy and seed-crunched. And they’re precious, brief-seasoned and dependent on the weather. When I lived in Wyoming and waxed rhapsodic about this thing I missed, folks mostly assumed I was incorrectly speaking about blackberries. (I was not.) Even now that I have some black raspberries growing right here and don’t have to scope out some trove along a dirt road, picking is a delicate affair, achieved only by wading through chest-deep briars in blue jeans and long sleeves and a bug-netted hat. Last year, I learned too late that there was an ant-nest in the heart of the best patch—a sun-struck, sandy-soiled ditch between our place and the neighbors. The good news is that my layers offered a lot of protection. The bad news is that I didn’t know I was quite literally covered in ants until one crawled onto my hand and expressed its dissatisfaction with me standing in its living room. (One great thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that if you have to strip down to your underthings at ten a.m. on a Tuesday right there in the yard, there’s mostly no one to see or judge. Except the neighbor’s donkeys. Seriously judgy, those two donkeys.)
But the berries: once picked, they don’t keep well. When they’re ripe, they’re easy to bruise, as soft as joy. These days, I never use a container that holds more than about two cups at a time; any more and the weight of the upper berries can start to crush the lower. (There’s also the terrible possibility of dropping the container altogether, which I have done. It hurts less, emotionally, to fumble a few handfuls back into the underbrush than one of those old-fashioned half-gallon sherbert tubs I grew up using.) Once bruised, black raspberries can go moldy in what seems like hours. And wild berries are seldom perfect, nicked here and there by birds or those ants or an over-eager picking, which doesn’t help matters. The only way to keep them for more than a day or two is to freeze them or make jelly, which I have done, but only seldom, because it’s a lot of picking to devote to only one thing, even if the batches are small. Black raspberries are only very rarely offered for sale, and when they are, I don’t think the thumb-tip-sized berries that grow in neatly kept rows taste as good as the ones I have to struggle for.
(That said, if you find yourself with a windfall of black raspberries in your possession and you want to make some jam, do yourself a favor and put a little bit of lavender in it. I do mean a little—maybe a teaspoon of the dried buds in a batch that will make something like two pints—and you will not have laundry soap nor potpourri but rather a faintly spicy, more complex floral undertone to balance out a jam that will be quite sweet, even as jam goes. I put mine in one of those paper tea-sleeves and just chuck it in while the fruit and sugar cook. That way, you won’t have to fuss with lavender buds in your teeth later. If you strain the jam, of course, the loose buds will come out with the seeds. But I like the seeds and so I never do.)
Oh, summer is so rich with metaphor. The days are already slipping shorter, which I try not to think about. I find them to be easily bruised, too, or maybe that’s just my routine. A few hours after the previous issue of Loomings came out, I was headed north myself to Letchworth State Park in New York. Four amazing days of hiking and hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen in ages and yet it was as though the last conversation we’d had was simply resumed, seamless and understood. The next week included the four days of the Sport Literature Association conference, which was wonderful, but on Zoom, and four days of Zoom is pretty well my limit. (Past it, honestly, but the papers and creative work shared were so good, so one finds a way.)
I’m still trying to re-connect to my little patterns, the ones I need to keep the lights on, so to speak, in my brain and body. Tomorrow, though, I’m heading out again for a few days, to Barrelhouse’s fabulous Writer Camp, where I hope I can conjure up just one pattern: writing my face off.
What I’m making: In deference to the long days, it’s time for big projects. I’ve begun my first sweater-spin. At the start of the pandemic, I bought my first entire fleece (a Gotland cross), and I had it cleaned, blended up with some merino, and pulled into roving by a local fiber mill. (I have not yet become a person who can process four pounds of wool on hand-cards.) Finally, I decided on a pattern—Alice Starmore’s St. Brigid—and I did some test-spinning and gauge-swatching, so now it’s time to commit to the task. The pattern calls for roughly 2100 yards of yarn, and I’m making a 3-ply, so I’ve got 6300 yards of singles to spin, then ply. Onward!
What I’m reading: This summer, I’m starting in on the fall semester planning earlier than usual, and integral to that preparation is another read through of Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World. If you teach creative writing, I highly recommend it. It’s also helpful for thinking about the assumptions one makes when teaching any kind of writing; I find the way I think about teaching first-year writing (“composition”) is also being freed and challenged in very productive ways.
What I’m writing: For my latest piece for the Ploughshares blog, I wrote about Nicola Griffith’s Spear, a queer retelling of the Perceval myth. Spear makes gripping use of the supernatural facets of the story to render it all the more immediately relevant to our realities, right now. And Griffith’s writing is simply gorgeous.