A bountiful harvest of berries and song
For several years, my husband and I packed pints of freshly picked blueberries while working off a flatbed trailer down in our bog. When the pickers we hired finished harvesting one area, we would move the trailer so that we were always situated in the thick of the picking. The long rows of high-bush blueberries stretched across acres of peat bog. Between the rows worked dozens of people, both locals and migrants from various Southern states and Mexico.
One of the delights of packing in the field was listening to the music of the cicadas, the songs of the birds, and the murmuring of the breeze in the leaves. Layered over the natural sounds was the chatter of the laborers, and sometimes they sang along with the radios that they'd set between the bushes. Tex-Mex, country-and-western, and other music mingled with the thumping of buckets and the rustling of bushes as hands and arms sought the fruit. Sometimes one of the pickers would break into yodeling, carried away by the joy of a mariachi band.
In the midst of this concert, we sorted berries, dumped them into cardboard pints, and slipped cellophane wrappers over the boxes. While we preferred the music of the natural environment, we listened to the blend offered by the pickers. Most days, we were so busy receiving buckets of berries and packing them that we gave little thought to what music we would play if we had the inclination to share.
One warm Saturday, a significant portion of our workers had taken the day off. Both my husband, John, and I needed to remain at the trailer to sort and pack, though. During a lull, we cocked our heads and realized that only at the far end of the field did a radio play. The rich smell of peat mingled with the fragrance of fruit. John and I looked at each other, and he drove off in the pickup toward our house.
A few minutes later, he returned with two black cases. The migrant children who usually played in the shade near our work station clustered around us. "What's in those boxes?" they asked. "Are those suitcases?"
We opened the cases to reveal my husband's piano accordion and my own Irish button accordion.
Sitting on our cases, we lit into a rake of reels and a medley of jigs. The radio was turned off, and from the depths of the berry bushes erupted cheering and applause. For a while we squeezed out waltzes, slip jigs, and hornpipes and filled the bog with Irish, Scottish, and contradance tunes.
When one older couple emerged from the rows with their full buckets, they set them down and began hopping about. My husband and I settled into a string of Kerry polkas, and the couple danced around the trailer along with the children.
The arrival of more buckets of berries meant we had to resume packing fruit and allow the natural sounds to entertain us. We tucked our instruments beneath the trailer, ready for the next opportunity when we could share the music of our hearts and heritage.