When I was almost 7, my family moved from the Seattle area down to the Santa Clara Valley, about an hour south of San Francisco. Before it became “Silicon Valley,” it looked like this:
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 cherries orchards surrounding my neighborhood
Each spring, walking home, we watched the cherries ripen. Mustard plants grew at the base of the trees in late spring, and if you wandered far enough into the orchard, you could look in every direction and not see anything but mustard blooms and fruit trees.
Then, in June, the cherries were ready. I picked them every day – we all did, everyone who headed home that way, 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’s post from last week, 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 the Santa Clara Valley. I thought about orchards and summer, and about happiness and abundance.
Rainier cherries from east of the mountains have gone on sale in the farmers markets, and I have been buying a lot of them. The person selling them lets you try one or two first:
So you buy some, but only a handful, because they cost a lot:
But before you go home you decide a handful is not nearly enough, and you wander back to buy more:
and the next day, when you can already see the bottom of the bowl, you go back for more:
What I’m really trying to do, of course, when I eat those cherries is to conjure up that delicious abundance I once experienced in the Santa Clara Valley. Not just conjure it up, but 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 toward ultimate failure. Winter is irony and satire – the final absurdity. Spring is comedy – new beginnings and light-hearted 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 a bowlful-or-a-basketful-of-cherries story, but an orchardful-of-cherries story. A story that measures up to this:
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 worthy of summer, something from the heart, full of belief.
If I’m feeling more like a teenager than a writer, I think (unbelievably) of George Carlin singing “Cherry…cherry pie…cherry…cherry pie….” Click here to listen to Carlin on YouTube. Less literary, but sweet, glorious and openly sensual. Like those fields of mustard, with the trees rising up out of them.
And since I’m talking cherries, and since I’m going for abundance, check out this George Gershwin song – Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries – sung by Dean Martin and Gisele MacKenzie. A little cherry to put on top of the sundae. Enjoy.