The first clue the strawberries were ripe was usually the scent of crushed berries.
When you spent as much time as we did camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, strawberry season was one of the things we always looked forward to.
Anticipation always lasted for a couple of weekends, sometimes three before the tiny red morsels of sweetness were ready to pick.
The distinctive leaves were the first sign the plants were coming back from a winter buried under snowdrifts. Usually we found the first ones in open meadows in the middle of a Douglas Fir forest in Kootenay National Park. We had a favorite campsite there, and a hike to a beaver pond usually gave us the first sightings of tiny green leaves working their way up between fresh green grass sprouts.
The next weekend, we would find the ones clustered around the bottom of massive rough barked firs in the humus of dead needles shed from drooping branches. Mom would always tell us to be careful where we put our feet. Not one of us wanted to crush one of the berries when it was such a treat to pluck them from between the tiny white flowers blooming all around. Each flower promising another delicate treat for us to pick.
Inevitably one of us would step on a plant the the tangy scent would give away the location of the first ripe red fruit. Dropping into a crouch, the hunt was on and on the first weekend, not one went into an improvised basket to take back to camp. Our hats stayed on our heads, and the berries popped into our mouths, straight from the ground hugging plants without the benefit of cleaning them like you do fruit from the store. Nothing compares to fresh from the plant wild strawberries, unless it's the raspberries you find in late August hoping a bear hasn't beat you to them first.
Four years ago I divorced my first love, the Baltimore Orioles. Baseball was never the same since free agency anyway. The divorce came because I am old; old enough to remember how it can be, being a fan. Being old enough to remember makes me one of the lucky ones. I remember going into a season knowing which players were on my big league team not because of stupid fantasy sports, but because they were also on my team last year, and the year before. I divorced the Orioles, and thus baseball because they let a playoff team dissolve in the names of “cost-cutting” and “rebuilding”. I listened to pundits repeatedly say the O’s “had” to rebuild in the name of finances. Bullshit, I say. Five years ago Camden Yards was packed with fans every day. Now it is a ghost town. Who is making money now? Manny Machado is, but he’s gone. Adam Jones, gone. Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tilman, gone. Even Buck Showalter. And so too, Huck is gone.
Opening Day was once my favorite day of the year. If you do not know what Opening Day is, then it is likely you are not American, not male, and not Southern. For those of you who are not any of those things there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it will be harder for you to comprehend the day’s importance, though this prompt has made it my duty to help you try.
Opening Day is of course the first day of big league baseball in the United States. It is the only day when every team’s record is equal. It is a day when possibilities abound, when every player is fresh, healthy, and the time when that new coach might prove to be your savior. It is often still cold outside in early April, nevertheless baseball was our sign that Spring was finally here. Opening Day was when the football went back in the closet, when you oiled up the catcher’s mitt, polished the cleats, and began running down the driveway for the newspaper every morning so you could check the daily box scores while eating your Cheerios.
Down South, at least in my South, baseball was king. The other sports were to kill time between seasons. The kids who were skilled were revered. Those who did not play at all were brushed off as being of little importance. My best friend Jimmy was good. Jimmy was good at every sport. It is why we were the best of friends. We fed off of each other. Jimmy is a golf pro today, but back then we played football, basketball, and mostly baseball. We took it seriously, and we played to win. My childhood was much like “The Sandlot” on a larger scale, only without the mean dog.
Jimmy was the preacher’s son in a small town. I say that because it is important to my baseball story. As the preacher’s son Jimmy knew everybody. Jimmy had everybody’s phone number. Jimmy could pick up the phone at 10:00 am on a Wednesday in July and by noon there would be seventeen kids at the little league field ready to pick sides. We didn’t need grownup coaches, umpires, uniforms or concession stands… only a ball, a bat, and a bike.
All of that is gone now, lost to divorce. I am bitter, but that is how divorce leaves a man… cold, bitter, and alone; recalling the good times, conveniently forgetting the bad. Every time I think I have moved on from baseball I open a drawer to find a dirt stained ball, or an Elston Howard rookie card, and the old feelings flood back, and I am twelve again, sweating at the park in the hot sun, getting a well-deserved black eye in an argument over fair or foul. Those were the days!
I know it sounds too good to be true, or even as in “Field of Dreams,” something like Heaven, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even Iowa. It was only a small, mountain town in Virginia in an age without social media, video games, or satellite television.
(Wait! Hang on a second! Give me just a dog-gone minute to read that again; “Heaven… Waynesboro… no social media… baseball…”)
Damn! Could I have been in Heaven after all? I‘m afraid I’m not biblically versed enough to say, but for damn sure it was Opening Day!
The Color Green
When a new year starts, people are BEGGING for spring. The holidays are over and there just isn't anything to really look forward to unless you count Chocolate Day (2/15). However the bitter cold of January and February really are rude and intrusive and they suck the life right out of you.
Then comes spring. April and May comes and you get flowers and sunny days and-
That is correct. My First favorite micro-season in the mid-west is tornado season. (You might think this is in poor taste after what just happened in the east, but I'm talking the SEASON not the actual tornado.)
In the Prairie Lands, you have NEVER seen a more beautiful sight than a fully fledged thunderstorm and wall cloud. The clouds dip, roll, they look like motion captured waves of the sea tinted bluish gray and GREEN!
"There's no such thing as a green sky," said someone I once knew and then never saw again. There's a whole scientific reason why the clouds get that color, I have never been able to retain that information. All I know is that when it IS that color, it is really cool, and I need bring up the weather and keep an ear out for the tornado siren.
Another interesting thing you could be fifty miles away and look INTO a huge thunderstorm and just watch the lightning bounce from one cloud to another. It is the most AMAZING thing you have ever seen! While looking at it from far away its like looking at a curtain of water as well. You know those cartoons where it has the rain falling on only one character? Kind of like that, but on a much larger scale.
But the BEST thing about this season is the more rain we get, the better the crops are going to be that year.