I take blueberries for granted. I admit it. Whether from the grocery store or a roadside farmstand, blueberries have held a steady place in my summer diet for as long as I can remember. I often eat them in handfuls, staining my hands blue in the process. I confess I also have been known to buy a pint or two in the early spring, when the berries come from Chile and are bland and tough compared to their Maine cousins. But for me blueberries have always foretold warmer weather, a change in season, and sometimes, in a chilly March, it’s just too much to resist.
Needless to say, I thought I knew how a blueberry tasted. What it looked like. How it felt between my forefinger and thumb. But on a trip last Friday with half of MCS 39 to Bill & Amy Hinkley’s blueberry farm in Waldoboro, Maine, I realized just how wrong I had been.
Blueberries, wild, low-bush, organic blueberries, have as many tastes, colors, textures, and sizes as the average apple display in a chain supermarket. They are deep blackish purple, pale lavender, cool pink, and Atlantic Ocean blue. They are oaky, sweet, tart, mushy, delicate, firm, and earthy. Bill, standing on a small rock outcropping at the highest point of his family’s farm, urged us to notice the different shades of the bushes all around: rust, ochre, green, and brown. “You can taste the difference in the berries,” he said.
And we did. While weeding out invasive species, raking, and winnowing, we all stopped and sampled the crop. “The really dark ones are amazing!” someone called out. “Try these! They’re like sweet and sour candies,” I heard someone else say. It was hard to try just one at a time, but when I did, the difference in flavors was astonishing.
It was almost disappointing to see the berries get tossed together in a box, sifted through the winnower, and packaged in bags and boxes for the Chewonki kitchen. I knew that when these blueberries showed up in breakfast muffins in December, I would be thrilled to have a taste of summer, but understanding what I now did about their individual tastes, it was strange to see them in the pint boxes I recognized so well from summers past.
On the drive back to Wiscasset, I got to thinking about individuality, in blueberries and in people. I’m almost as new to Maine Coast Semester as the students, having arrived only a few weeks before them to begin my job as an Admissions and Alumni Officer. Already, I’ve begun to appreciate the amazing interplay between the individual and the community here at Chewonki, and the more I thought about it on my drive home (with hands stained blue), the more I thought: we’re all blueberries.
It’s easy to see everyone now, students, faculty, and staff, and think you know them just by looking at them, hearing them speak, learning where they’re from and what schools they’ve attended. But as time goes on, their shades of appearance become more nuanced, their histories more detailed, their views and opinions more developed. And then, almost imperceptibly, as each individual finds his or her unique voice within the community, the differences which help define our individuality start to matter less. Collectively we form a community with shared values, goals, joys, and responsibilities; a not-so-little pint box of ideas and aspirations.
So, I invite you to sample what MCS 39 has to offer in these pages in the coming months. When students get their computers back next week, they will be collectively responsible for writing weekly posts that capture their individual experiences here in Maine while also sharing the goings-on of the greater Chewonki community of which they are now part. I hope you’ll also join the conversation and post comments and responses to what you read here. And, if you haven’t already, please bookmark our flickr photo site, which will be updated regularly and includes some great shots of our trip to the Hinkley’s farm.
Admissions and Alumni Officer