Strawberry picking

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(Host) It’s strawberry time in Vermont, and commentator David Moats is celebrating the season and it’s meaning.

(Moats) Vermont has gotten a lot of attention lately – first with civil unions, then Jim Jeffords and now Howard Dean. More and more, people are wondering, what is it with that place?

There are lots of ways to answer that question. But for now here’s my answer: strawberries. I went strawberry-picking the other day, and I realized you cantake all the talk about politics and economics and history and you have no sweeter description of what Vermont is about than strawberries.

On a warm morning this week, I went out to the orchard in Shoreham where the strawberry field rises up on a slope looking off to the woods and fields toward the southwest.

The straw was scattered under the berries.
On the other side of the road there were more strawberries and a raspberry patch and the apple orchards were up above.

There were maybe a dozen people there picking berries, working their way down the rows, pushing aside the leaves, looking for the brilliant red of the ripe berry. There were kids and there were old people, and there were people in between. There were men and women. There were people with New York accents and people who sounded like Vermonters.

What everyone shared was that these beautiful sweet red berries were good, were worth stooping down for in the hot sun. Picking berries that day, you were doing something basic, useful, rewarding, wholesome. It was an activity detached from all the noise and fury of popular culture.

It was people looking for that deep red, jewel-like among the leaves, filling berry boxes, then standing up to take in the view of those hills. No explanation necessary.

The berries themselves were on the small size and a lot of them hadn’t fully ripened. That gave the search for the ripe berries an extra impetus. Some of them were still kind of tart, but that didn’t really matter. We weren’t looking for perfection. We weren’t looking for anything but strawberries on a warm summer day on a hillside in Shoreham.

We all have our lives, our jobs, our families, our ideas, our opinions. But every once in awhile, we do something that gets right to the root of why live here. It’s a moment when the simplicity and wholesomeness of rural life are self-evident. I’ve had moments like that on a mountaintop or canoeing on a quiet river or by myself in my garden.

That moment in the strawberry patch was nice because of that small group of disparate people who had come together there for a simple, common purpose. That night we had some strawberries and whipped cream, and the next morning the tartness of the tart ones seemed to have melted into a full and delicious sweetness.

You want to know about Vermont and why the chauvinism of Vermonters is both intense and modest? Go pick strawberries on a summer morning. That’s all there is to it. That’s all there needs to be.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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