Blueberry Summer

28 07 2011

Somehow the blueberries know.  It’s not the heat.  Here in the deep South it is hot starting in May and continues well into September.  Yet the first day of summer vacation, I go out to say hello to my bushes and somehow they knew I’d be there and all those green berries had turned blue overnight.  I know that summer vacation is coming to a close when the bushes on the side yard, the first ones to turn blue, stop producing.  And by the last day of vacation, there are only a few berries left on the back bushes.  Somehow they know.

If school-year weekends are sips of warm water, then summer vacation is a pitcher full of ice water, filled to the brim, with glistening droplets holding tight to its rounded belly.  I need summer.  I especially needed summer this year, following a school year that was tougher than most and had me wondering if it was time for another career.  It was my first year in fifth grade.  New curriculum, new ideas to develop.  Same students.  We had “looped,” with us fourth grade teachers keeping our same classes as teachers and students alike had moved up a grade.  It was an inspired idea: teachers wouldn’t have to waste time getting to know their students, students knew what to expect, and an issue of replacing fifth grade teachers who were leaving was dealt with.  We even got to stay in the same rooms, the janitor simply changing the number outside our doors. It worked well, mostly.

By the end of the year, however, things had changed.  Students were sick of each other, worse than usual since they had been with each other for two years now.  They were ready for change, a change that some felt they had been cheated out of in fifth grade and couldn’t come quickly enough as they headed to middle school.  I was tired, having spent the previous summer both in class and working on new lesson plans, and I didn’t handle the issues that arose very effectively.  I lost my sense of humor.  By the end of the year, I was completely dried out, parched and prickly.

That first day of summer vacation finally arrived.   I woke up, poured a bowl of cereal, went out to my bushes, and there they were: blue, plump berries begging me to cover my cereal with their bursts of summer succor.  Each morning would find me out there, cereal bowl in hand, swatting gnats and mosquitoes, listening to the coo of the mourning doves and the final rasps of the cicadas, brushing dewdrops off my face as I delved deeper into the bushes, feeling the promise of another hot day on the back of my neck.

So here it is, the end of July.  The bushes are slowing down, and my own pace quickens.  I’ve spent the last few days working in my classroom, hesitantly at first and then with growing purpose and interest.  I find my mind wandering to school projects, plans for fine-tuning the coming year.  Soon enough there will be no more fresh berries, no more slow summer mornings.  But I’ve gathered enough for the coming months.  I’m fully hydrated, plump and juicy as a ripe berry with good humor.  I’m ready.  This morning, I’ll stop by the school office to talk with the staff who have been working all summer, a blueberry pie in hand, so that they too can know the goodness of a blueberry summer.