Blueberries, painting and a bike ride

It was the British Columbia Provincial holiday and August 1st long weekend and my friend Dorothy came out from the city to stay for the weekend. She’s preparing for a two hundred kilometer bike ride early in September so she brought her off road bike. I don’t do that kind of valiant exercising, so she was on her own for four hours doing the lovely dike roads and trails that go along the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. I agreed to meet her up at Pitt Lake but I’ll never do that again on a long weekend.

The lake is a popular place to go for canoers, kayakers and speed boaters. The place was crawling with half clothed, well-tanned people. I guess one of the reasons it was so popular this particular day was that we’d just gone through a week of summer rain that felt more like late September and everyone was very glad to have that burst of hot, hot weather and brilliant sunshine again.

I took my paint box, a selection of watercolour tubes, a desk easel to prop my painting on and a folding director’s chair. When I got up to the Lake parking lot, it was packed. Cars were circling to get a space in case someone left mid-afternoon. I circled three times before I parked in a five minute zone for kayak drop off and then stayed ten minutes. Dorothy still didn’t show.

I was a bit worried about someone getting on my case, or worse, giving me a ticket, so I puttered with things in the trunk of my car, bringing the bag of painting supplies to the front seat, shifting the remainder of things around, getting out my camera, et cetera, et cetera. I took some pictures of a young lad at lake shore standing in the water, picking up stones and throwing them in. He was about five and he had a rather admirable persistence in his task and a dismal record at distance throwing. Most landed just inches from his feet.

On my fifth tour of the parking lot, perspiring away in the humid heat whilst stewing, so as to speak, cooking on slowly but inexorably in my black, heat absorbent car, I decided that I’d missed Dorothy somehow. I hadn’t seen her on the road in and the hour I had spent moving from one illegal spot to another in the gravel car park was not productive, not to mention the waste of carbon fuel. She goes on these lone bike rides often. She’d just probably lost her way. It was only slightly possible that she’d gotten there before I did and given up waiting for me.

A park attendant came up to my open car window and reminded me that I couldn’t park at the stop sign. I had been waiting, wasting a few more anxious minutes, figuring I’d move when a car came up behind me and needed me to move on.

“You can’t park here, y’know,” she said gently.
“I know. I’m just leaving,” I replied faking a bit of chagrin. However, her softly spoken reminder was my signal. I wasn’t staying any more.

“Oh, you’re leaving then?” she said, still gently.

:I’m on my way,” and I put my car in gear and drove out the parking lot and down Meaken Road. About two kilometers out, there was finally a parking space. I shook my head at the persistence some people have to get their boats in the water, then go park their car far away, then walk back a kilometer to their launched boat and then go rowing or speeding around as an afternoon diversion.

Two kilometers down the road, I found a shady tree with room for about three cars to park. I got out to explore. It would have been a safe and flat enough place to sit out and paint but there was no view. I crawled through the metal tubing gate and walked a few feet up an unused road but found nothing of paintable interest. The grasses were beautiful and tall, a whole field of them. It was a crop, but I couldn’t identify it.

So I drove down another bit of the road and found a drainage ditch, a dike perhaps, filled with water reflecting land and sky. I followed that for another short way. Eventually there was a space for about six cars to park and I stopped in the shade of a tall cottonwood tree. The colours of the ditch water were simply beautiful. My photos, when I saw them later, simply did not do them justice. I did a painting there of the ditch water. It’s one of three times I’ve stopped to paint in the last year, so I can’t say it’s wonderful, but I’ll share it with you anyway:

and

As I was painting, Dorothy rode up a little worse for wear, struggling with the heat. Thirty degrees Celsius is not really an advisable heat to go cycling in, in my opinion, but she is a hardy sort and rides in all weather. She’d missed the turn off that led to access Pitt Lake but she’d found another way to get there and all was well. Not counting where she had ridden through brambles, nor where a branch had whacked her on the way, she said it was quite easy. She had a large black grease spot on one leg which belied her bravado. She had fallen. Like all good athletes, she had just gotten back up again and continued on.

She’d only done twenty six of her eighty kilometer goal, so she only rested a half hour while I continued to paint and then she was off again. I stayed and painted these two sketches before I went down by the Little Red Barn fruit standing hoping to find some fresh yellow beans and some juicy blueberries for dinner.

and

We met up backat the house three hours later, both within minutes of each other. I was unloading the director’s chair and the paint pots from the trunk when she called urgently to me. She stood only ten feet away on the asphalt of the round-about.

“Look at them!” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was gloating or amazed or disgusted. Besides, I couldn’t see anything, at first. And then I saw this creepy but amazing convention of little flies amassed on the ground, swarming apparently aimlessly. There were so many of them they were bumping into each other. I could just just hear the conversation down there.

“Excuse me, just, get out of my way!”

“You bumped me.” (peremptorily) “Can’t you look where you are going?”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to. We’re supposed to be going south, y’know.”
“South? Our directions were north. Did you see the queen? Some babe, don’t you think?”

“Nah. Royalty is royalty is royalty. They all look the same. Big, important, lazy, making the rest of us work for them.

And all the time these fly-like creatures are swarming, bumping into each other, squirming their way around each other like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was as if the tarmac itself was coming to a boil.

Dorothy is scientific. She’s done lots of lab experiments and observational studies. I’m a gardener at this point. At the same time as I was watching. fascinated by this horde of winged creatures which we decided were adolescent ants. I didn’t want them in my lawn and I didn’t want them in my garden, really. I started to stomp them out and got quite a few of them, they were so closely packed. They had no sense of impending danger and so the foot fell and slid across their bodies them into oblivion.

“Are you disgusted with me for squishing them?” I asked Dorothy.

“No. I’ve done enough lab experiments to know what they are all about. It must be the heat and the fact that they have graduated from their larval stage. But to see them all at once, it really is quite tremendous.
“No. I think it’s quite alright. There are certainly enough who escaped your heavy footed-ness. They won’t be missed.”

We went in after that. I cooked steak and steamed a corn cob each. I sliced a few tomatoes and a bit of cucumber and that was it. On a hot day, it’s no fun being in the kitchen. Simple is best.

Mrs. Stepford next door is alone for a week while her husband is away traveling, so she came and shared the repast with us. We had a hilarious conversation over dinner and a Tom Hanks, Julia Robert’s movie – Charlie Wilson’s war that kept us engaged for the evening.

Now, I have to go backwards to go a bit forwards.

Before Dorothy came, I was doing my usual cleaning for a guest routine. I changed the linens on the beds. I started noticing spots on the bathroom mirrors, so I wiped down the mirrors. I had to find something for lunch and for dinner. It’s blueberry harvest time so buying some of these was a must. I drove down into the farmlands that lay beside the Alouette and Pitt Rivers. It’s bucolic and redolent of new mown hay. Because of the heat, the grasses are looking golden and ripe. A second haying is in process although I don’t see any of the giant marshmallow-looking covered bales of hay I that saw earlier in spring.

I’ve got two favourite farm places I like to go. There must be at least eight, maybe ten, of these along that one stretch of road. Purewal’s blueberries are always good and ripe, cleaned of all leaves, stems and miscellaneous debris. They’ve got a giant blower that keeps the leaves and twigs afloat while the berries spill onto a conveyor belt The daughter and the grandfather sit on either side of the belt picking off the green, the tiny and the squished ones.

At two dollars a pound, you can’t lose. I bought seven pounds for me and I picked up blueberries for Dorothy as well. The farmer didn’t have enough for my large order so he excused himself and went out to the fields in his little tractor to get me another ten pounds worth, leaving me with his daughter, a child of about ten, and his father who tried to have a conversation with me, with great difficulty. I wondered if he had suffered a stroke, so difficult it was for him to form words.

When the farmer came back, I asked him what he did with the culls. They looked perfectly good for jam with a bit of cleaning up. There were little stems and twigs in amongst them. There were absolutely green ones that would have to go, but there were lots of plump soft ones and some little to mid sized ones that were perfectly good.

“Oh, those? Those go to the jam factories. I can’t sell them. They’re no good. Not firm enough. Not big enough. Green ones.”
“I’d gladly pay you for some, for making my own jam.” I offered.

“Nope. Nope. The berries are no good. If you want some, I’ll just give you some.”

I took about five pounds to try. Later in the evening as we sat watching Tom Hanks acting as a cowboy (and maverick) senator from Texas and Julia Roberts in a ghastly wig acting as the sixth richest woman from somewhere (The United State? Texas? The world?), I cleaned up the box of berries.

I’m an impatient woman. I couldn’t stand not knowing how they would work out. So I put them in a large Pyrex bowl and covered it over with a dinner plate so that if it splurted, I wouldn’t have a mess to clean up. I set the microwave for five minutes and presto, I had jam! It was incredible. A quarter of a cup of sugar stirred into the piping hot mixture and, voila, the berries were an nice sweet sauce.

At the Little Red Barn across the street, I bought some fresh peaches, apricots and green plums for dessert.

Monday morning came early. Dorothy had to get back into town to get ready for her next work day. She took her car and I took mine. We went back to Purewal’s berries and I loaded up on a ten pound box of berries of the cull variety. She bought some fresh fruits at the Red Barn for herself and went on her way. I went back home to sort out my box of free berries. With such a short cooking time, it took me just a few hours to freeze the good berries for winter and to make blueberry jam and ice cream sauce with the remainder.

It was a happy weekend and I only wish I could send you all a little taste of my blueberry surprise! That’s one of the failings of the Internet, so far. But you never know. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have thought it possible for a computer to take dictation, but they do, with voice recognition. But Cyberspace still has a bit of difficulty with sending jam. So, like the little red hen, I’ll just have to eat this up all by myself!

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One Response to “Blueberries, painting and a bike ride”

  1. Dody Says:

    Nice touch!! It has been a while since I have read your blog with keen interest and was glad to find the time tonight!! I need to go back in time and read some of the previous ones. I am always amazed at your interpretation of our “goings on” and how you see things to differently – a real eye opener.
    thanks

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