Friday, August 08, 2008

From Whence I come

PHOTO CREDIT-JAY KIRKPATRICK-(*-Click on Photos for large size image*)
by Cody Lyon

Just south of Birmingham, Alabama situated on Hiway 25 lying on the banks of the Coosa River sits the one stop-light town Wilsonville. This pretty little hamlet is just down the road from another small town, a spitting image of television's Mayberry, a place that happens to be crowned by a stately southern court house, hence it is the County seat, Columbiana. A portion of the farm land area between Wilsonville, Columbiana and the area just north, the fast growing Hiway 280 suburban corridor leading to Birmingham, is called Four Mile. My parents, now retired from normal shift work, live there now, as they have existed in close proximity for most of their lives. Currently, they operate a small, casually run blueberry picking farm.

Here, one can come with family in tow, and you and your's pick a gallon bucket of berries for $7.

The berry bushes were planted on a whim years ago by my parents and sister, in neat rows, on a slope that catches the Alabama sunlight from all angles of the sky daily. A natural irrigation system keeps the plants moist, even in the face of drought conditions that nearly destroyed the crop just one year ago. The bushes have since grown into large tree like plants, filled with bountiful berries with deep hues of blue hidden inside their branches.

His business is brisk, in part due to the fact that blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidant phytonutrients of the fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the USDA.

Next year, he's hoping his new blackberry bushes will be ready for picking, as will his new fig trees, that is, if he can keep the birds from eating them.

Along with the berries, fresh tomatoes burst from vines in another patch, alongside fresh okra, turnip greens and what reportedly seems to be a favorite among many newcomers to his small operation, watermelons.

One day, during a phone conversation as I sat by the Hudson River in New York City's Manhattan, my Dad told me he's certain some of the people that visit him are first timers to a farm like his. He said that more than one visitor had told him they had never actually picked berries, watermelons or a tomato from a vine or bush.

He said he liked to share the story of his now deceased basset hound, who when the tomato's were ripe, could be seen strolling in the garden, stopping occasionally to inspect, then eat a couple off the vine. To this day, he finds his tomato loving basset hound a bit, unusual.

As cyclists and joggers passed me as I sat on a bench in the manicured Hudson River Park, from Alabama, my Dad spoke of guests who speak with accents unlike his, people originally from beyond these United State borders, who now made their way down to his blueberry patch in Shelby County.

My Dad has found joy in showing the first time visitors how to gently roll their fingers over the berries so the ripe ones fall into the bucket. He also loved taking them to the watermelon patch, a place where these giant pod like pieces of fruit grew from tiny seeds, where they'd tap and thump the melon to 'hear' if it was ripe. The watermelon patch was always almost magical, mysterious, a place to find those creations where he, like many a southerner, discovered the satisfaction of salt on the sweet juicy creation from the ground.

When the guests found find one they like, he tells them to "go on and get it" and they go and cut the curly pigtail lifeline that connects to the ground and hoisting the melon, load it into their car, maybe for a trip back to suburbia, another town, city, perhaps too, with a vivid memory tucked away, to be recalled at another place and time.

He said it just tickled him to death to see the fascination in these folks faces, the beauty of introducing something he'd always known as a simple part of seasonal and daily life.

Maybe too, they find him interesting, a relic of sorts, one who worked shift work at a power plant for years, but now finds peace and joy with the land, one who shares, albeit sells the fruits of that love with the world around him.

This past Spring, my Dad was thrilled when he went outside and found that one of his humming birds had made it back to Alabama for the summer season. During another phone conversation between my adopted home and Alabama, my Mother described an older man behaving like a small child on Christmas morning. One day, he rushed into the house and announced with smiles from ear to ear, "they come back, they're back!"

They, being tiny creatures with wings, who humm, devour nectar then build nests no larger than a walnut to raise there young.

He has five humming bird feeders and the customers who come to the farm reportedly marvel at the tiny creatures as they feed, dance and dart at lightning speed, often dodging each other in a sort of bird combat, sometimes in the quest for a mate. He had done research and found that the tiny birds spend part of their lives in this part of Central Bama but as Fall and Winter approach, they come together and flap their tiny wings and fly thousands of miles across the Gulf to Mexico. By the next spring and summer, the birds somehow find their way back to this newly established sanctuary of humming just south of Birmingham, near the Coosa River.

Of course it's not just the feeders , the birds love the berries as they will the new crop of figs, blackberries and pears too.

It goes without saying, that in this world where we are constantly bombarded with the pains of life's challenges and the news of world events that seem so far beyond our control, that all around us are unreported and under discussed simplicities that are in fact, capsules of the beauty, communication and the exchange of experiences that we as living beings truly are capable of. There is less than obvious beauty in this world, often times, right under our noses, perhaps far away from the banks of the Hudson, or yet again, right along those banks but lost in the shuffle of daily life. As our world grows smaller, we can be sure, that places like my Dad's blueberry farm, are helping in some small way to bring us all a little closer together, face to face, human to human, as people, as living beings of this earth we all share. And, as the bustle continues all around here in the Big Apple, there is comfort in knowing that this place from whence I come, it is the root of who I am.
Note: No one in this story is affiliated in any way with, or subscribes to in any way, the political opinions pontificated by this author in other parts of this blog-that being because I often speak my mind)

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