Friday, July 5, 2013

Abundance

Here's a little cherry poem by George Gershwin for Poetry Friday:

Life is just a bowl of cherries --
Don't take it serious,
Life's too mysterious.
You work,
You save,
You worry so,
But you can't take your dough
When you go, go, go.

So keep repeating "It's the berries."
The strongest oak must fall.
The sweet things in life
To you were just loaned,
So how can you lose
What you've never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh, aha!
Laugh and love,
Live and laugh,
Laugh and love,
Live and laugh at it all!

When I was almost 7, my family moved from the Seattle area to the Santa Clara Valley of California, about an hour south of San Francisco. That was before it became “Silicon Valley,” and it looked like this:
Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley's Cherry Orchards
Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley’s Cherry Orchards

It actually did look like that – it’s not just nostalgia playing tricks with my mind. It was so beautiful, such a generous landscape. Of course, we moved into a house that was part of a development that was one of dozens of developments that would eventually wipe out the orchards and pave over the farmland and replace it with freeways and suburbs.  But my family got there before too much had been destroyed – 1956 – there were still great fields of garlic and artichokes to the south of us, with cherry orchards surrounding my neighborhood.

Each spring, walking home, we watched the cherries ripen. Wild mustard plants grew at the base of the trees in late spring, enouraged by farmers because of the nitrogen they provided the soil, and if you wandered far enough into the orchard, all you could see was mustard blooms and fruit trees, no matter which way you looked.
Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose
Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose

Then, in June, the cherries were ready.  I picked them every day on the way home from school – we all did, everyone who walked past them,  and we ate them until we couldn’t eat any more.  I like to think the farmer knew that the school kids would eat all the cherries from the row of trees nearest the road. We felt like there was enough for everyone, and then some.

Even a decade later there were still enough orchards in the valley that high school kids could make their summer money in the canneries. The heady smell of hot tomatoes and ripe fruit would drift out all summer from the Contadina and Del Monte canneries in the Bay Area.

Reading Laura Kvasnosky's post last week over at Books Around the Table, about the weddings of her son and her daughter, and the lovely poem by Li-Young Lee about peaches, I started thinking about those cherry trees, and about the Santa Clara Valley. I thought about orchards and summer, and about happiness and abundance. Sweet, sweet cherries.

Rainier cherries from east of the mountains have now gone on sale in the local markets, and I have buying a lot of them. The person selling them usually lets you sample one or two first:
Rainier Cherries - The Absolute Best Cherries in the World
Rainier Cherries – The Absolute Best Cherries in the World

They're scrumptious, so you buy some, but only a handful because they cost a lot:
A Handful of Delicious Cherries
A Handful of Delicious Cherries

But before you go home you decide that’s not nearly enough, and you wander back to buy more:


and the next day, when you begin to see the bottom of the bowl, you go back for even more:
...and a basketful.
…and a basketful.

What I’m really trying to do when I buy those cherries and eat them, of course, is to conjure up the delicious abundance I once experienced in the Santa Clara Valley. No, not just to conjure it up, but to take it into me, cherry by cherry.

Northrop Frye once described the genres of literature according to the seasons. Fall, according to Frye, is tragedy – fatalism, the hero pushed towards his fate. Winter is irony and satire – the final absurdity. Spring is comedy – new beginnings and happy endings. But summer is romance – the season when belief is in full bloom. Summer is abundance.  No wonder that in the summertime, I want to write something wholehearted, something unrestrained. Not a sample-cherry story, not a handful-of-cherries story, not even bowlful-or-basketful-of-cherries story, but an orchardful-of-cherries story. A story that measures up to this:
Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries
Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries

So when it’s cherry season, I think about the Santa Clara Valley. If I’m in a writer-ish mood, I think of Frye. I strive to write something authentic, generous, from the heart, full of belief.

If I’m feeling more like a teenager than a writer (that still happens sometimes) I think of George Carlin singing “Cherry…cherry pie…cherry…cherry pie….” Click here to listen to Carlin on YouTube. Usually, Carlin is a Winter kind of guy: satirical, ironic. But singing like this he's all Summer, smooth as honey in the sunshine.  Less literary, but sweet and openly sensual. Abundant, you might say.

In the spirit of abundance, here are Dean Martin and Gisele MacKenzie with their own rendition of the Gershwin poem I opened this post with. The song is a little cherry on top of a sundae. Enjoy. 
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Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Keri over at Keri Recommends.  Head over there to see what other people have posted.

8 comments:

Keri said...

Oh Julie! You made me homesick for California. There are Rainier cherries in my fridge, and I love the line about taking in those feelings from childhood cherry by cherry.

My dad grew up in Mountain View, picking fruit. It's a different world in San Jose now -- too fast for me!

Thanks for the many gifts in this one Poetry Friday post!

Ruth said...

What a wonderful post, and what glorious abundance! Thank you!

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

The sweet things in life
To you were just loaned,
So how can you lose
What you've never owned?

So, so true! And thank you for this lovely post - and those gorgeous photographs of blossoming cherry trees.

Mary Lee said...

Thank you for this nostalgic trip to the California of your childhood. I'll think of you whenever I eat summer cherries now!

Diane Mayr said...

A fabulous post, Julie! Truly.

And thanks for sharing the video of Dean and Gisele. In my old age, I've become a fan of Dean, whom I grew up dismissing as a drunk. My favorite of his tunes is "Ain't That a Kick in the Head." Definitely a spring-type of guy.

Violet N. said...

Well that was delightful, especially since I finished the last of a carton of Bing cherries about an hour ago.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

What a delicious post! You have such a fluidity to your writing... and those gorgeous pictures too. Loved this paragraph especially: "What I’m really trying to do when I buy those cherries and eat them, of course, is to conjure up the delicious abundance I once experienced in the Santa Clara Valley. No, not just to conjure it up, but to take it into me, cherry by cherry."

Keri was right in describing this post as a gift.

Carol said...

Julie,
Such a gorgeous post! I love the Gershwin poem, but even more, I love your memories. Can't imagine being able to pick them on the way home from school. In Colorado, they are pretty expensive (3.99 a pound) and Rainier Cherries are more than that. You make me want to go buy some anyway!