Blueberries are covered with a thin layer of wax, a cloudy surface known as the bloom.* The paraffin acts as a sunscreen by reflecting ultraviolet light, while protecting the hydrophobic thin-skinned berries from excessive rains.
Picking blueberries by the bucket is a mind-numbingly contemplative task. Rows upon rows of bushes lined up with varying size berries, degrees of ripeness, and yields, the branches swaying in the wind.
Before long, I became fascinated with stalks of berries where just ONE was different- like a cluster of all-green berries sporting a solitary fully ripe indigo. Even more rarely though, I would come across a grouping of waxy blues with just one shiny berry.
The shiny berry is vulnerable, somehow having lost it’s protective barrier. It seems more likely to burst open, to crack apart, to seep and shrivel up, or to attract the high altitude attention of a bird.**
Sometimes I could see that the wind had rubbed a neighboring branch across it, scuffing the wax away breeze by breeze. Or perhaps a picker handled it like a sculptor in the round before abandoning it, deciding that it needed more time to ripen.***
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THESE SHINY BERRIES?!?
As always, my neurons forge an involuntary highway to Roman. He is so vulnerable. His sugars take time to set!
<insert Scooby-Doo flashback music here>
When we first arrived at the blueberry farm, Roman wouldn’t get out of the car. [STAGE 1: AVOIDANCE] As usual, we initially played this off with the crew as shyness, later laughing it off as antisocialism, then with time and trust admitted to what it actually is: the profoundly debilitating social anxiety that comes braided into autism.
Outside is an easier setting for Roman. He tiptoed around the periphery at highly social times like a bonfire or a Sunday oyster bake. At night, his bloom-free shine is invisible.
And slowwwwwly, Roman started letting his daytime guard down. He made it from outdoors into the MUDROOM, where he would connect adjacent to the group but not be of the group. After a couple of weeks, he ventured one room in to the KITCHEN- usually to hang out with one or two choice people.****
But it took him the longest to show his humor and true colors to Richard, the farm’s owner. In fact, most of their sugars set in the final week, when Richard and I set up shop in the dining room to hack away at a five inch binder full of questionnaires, reports, and regulations required for the farm to be certified to sell in grocery stores. This was somber stuff.
Roman camped out a cased doorway away in the kitchen, kitted out at the table with his big orange garbage truck, his headphones, and his iPad full of YouTube videos. And he sporadically lobbed NONversational topics to Richard about the usual - trucks, trains, tractors, and our dog Rooney. [STAGE 2: FILIBUSTERING] Richard kindly acknowledged him every time.
Then Roman got brave, unleashing a short stack of sarcasm [STAGE 3: SASS], playfully heckling him with a “Hey Richard! … pay your bills!”, “Go back to school!”, or “Get back to work!” The. Little. BOSSYPANTS!
This made me nervous at first. But far from offending Richard, somehow this tapped directly into his inner goofball. He played through, returning friendly quips (“Hey- I’m no deadbeat!”), cracking us up with stage-worthy voice-work ("Say hello to my little friend!"), or simply answering back with sincere laughter. We plowed through the paperwork in good spirits, while little by little, these two scuffed the protective coating off EACH OTHER.
The final day culminated in a mostly successful high-five.
When it was time to head out, Richard stood in the driveway waving goodbye. Just before making the turn to the highway, Roman asked us to roll down his back window.
Final words? “Hey Richard! Don’t get pregnant!” *****
* Or the epicuticular wax, if you wanna be a geek about it.
** Cedar Waxwings are the bane of Florida blueberry growers, traveling in clusters, indiscriminately pecking at one berry while knocking whole clusters to the ground.
*** As soon as blueberries are picked, the sugars set, and they stop ripening. So the best way to ensure a tasty berry is to wait until it is COMPLETELY blue to pick it. And y'all. Eat local, organic berries! There were a full SIX pages of acceptable levels of various unpronounceable pesticides, stabilizers, and fertilizer chemicals in the grocery binder. That is berry gross.
**** I'm looking at you, Susan! <3 I also suspect that the fact that BANANAS are stored in the kitchen may have helped... ;)
***** Solid, if unexpected, advice!