It’s 6pm on a hot July night. I need to work tonight. I’ve come home from the office knowing it is absolutely necessary that I work for a few more hours if I’m going to have a shot at making my deadline. I’ll put some coffee on, fire up my laptop, and write the profiles of the elementary schools that are managing to inject environmentalism into the school ethos – through gardening or composting or chemical-free cleaning – even though schools right now are broke and maxed out on standardized testing.
Whatever I write or don’t write will be printed 20,000 times and read by – it always gives me the heebie jeebies to think about it – at least that many people. That’s 20,000 reasons to buckle down.
Four words derail my best intentions: “I’m going raspberry picking.”
Husband Joe is dressed in a ridiculous get-up: shorts over long underwear, a long-sleeve shirt tucked in tight at belly-button level, and knee-high Muck boots. He’s already gotten Lyme disease once this season.
The raspberries are peaking right now, he says. I know he’s right.
The wild raspberries in the woods behind our house are summer’s most lavish offering. (They are actually wineberries, the raspberry’s seedy cousin, I’ve since learned.) We don’t do anything to cultivate them except watch as the furry canes dangle sticky clusters of buds that unpeel and plump up into rubies. We’ve harvested a few quart jars this summer, but so far the buds have far outnumbered the berries. It’s been a week since we last looked, it just rained, and I can feel it. The buds are bursting. To make the situation more urgent, we’re going away this weekend, and if we wait ‘til we get back, they might be over – purple and fermented, or else shriveled, fallen to the ground or munched by slugs, so long awaited and then left unappreciated.
For the first chunk of my life I was possessed of a ruthless work ethic. It was all encompassing in high school, when, driven by unquestioning ambition, I did homework late into the night with the sheets pulled over my head so that my mom wouldn’t see my lamp and know I was staying up until two – again. In college I pulled weekly all-nighters to write papers, maybe sleeping for an hour. I can still remember the pain of waking, but I can’t tap back into the motivation.
I know that if I go berry picking now I’ll miss my deadline and cause a number of people – myself chief among them – a lot of stress. The magazine might not be as good, because the writing and the copy editing will be rushed. I will receive stern admonishments. And of course, I don’t have to actually go berry picking to enjoy the berries. Joe would share the bounty.
But even as I think that thought, I feel devastated – furious! – at being left behind, indoors, on such an evening as this, when our woods are offering up candies by the bunch. Plus there are spots that only I know about.
If I made a pro-con list, it would tell me to finish my work. It is, after all, my job – not only my livelihood, but work that I feel is important. It’s a lot more momentous than whatever grade grubbing I was doing in high school and college. But there’s something stronger and older than my intellect pulling on me, that same instinct that compels me to charge through prickers to get at a dangling bunch of berries even though my bowl is already full. It probably hearkens back to an ancient time of hunter gatherers, and I am helpless in its thrall.
Whatever “it” is has been getting stronger, too. These days, not only the taste of berries but the smell of baby, the call of a garden that wants weeding, are overpowering. I’m in trouble.
Maybe I will get back to work after dark, but not likely. After I put the baby down there’s not much life in me. More likely I’ll just finish up late – again, which will make the whole closing process stressful and crazy. If there are typos, the berries are to blame. But right now, if you’ll excuse me... while there’s daylight left.