Ripespans

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 24, 2016

A half pint of raspberries sits on the kitchen counter.

These are the tiny variety, handpicked by someone who cares a lot, maybe someone deep in blissful connection to nature as the midsummer sun beats down, a heat interrupted only by the occasional thunderhead lumbering across the sky, laying its blue shadow down.

The purchase price of this basket is far too little ($3) at a local farmer’s market. Rather than that berry-on-steroids look of today, this sampling has a soft, dusty appearance, as if modestly hiding the fullness of its color. Are these wild, actually? Who knows.

(Poured onto the counter for inspection, one particular berry rolls off to the left, toward the potted fern on the kitchen island, succeeding — almost! — in hiding itself under the shade of a frond. After coming to a complete stop, it moves another inch, on its own, and bumps ever so gently into a coffee mug.  A micro sigh is released.)

MCW (moving closer in, seeing one of the berry’s hairs move slightly): Hello?

(The raspberry, emitting a tiny blur of sounds, then rolls back the length of a single drupelet — the nodes that comprise the whole drupe.)

MCW (looking around for husband in vicinity): I realize this is the magical part of July, but seriously. Are you for real?

RB: I’m real. Geez. (The voice is a pipsqueak’s. Not a cartoon character’s, or even an animated anything’s, but a lovely, sweet, squeaky sort of drawling voice the loudness of, say, a baby bumblebee.) Flesh and juice. Oh, and 6 percent fiber by total weight. Which is very high.

MCW: By the grace of summer magic, I am speaking with a raspberry. My favorite fruit.

RB (waving all her hairs, acknowledging compliment): Well. Except for plums, though, right?

MCW (blushing deeply): I mean, I like plums so very much. But …

RB (interrupting): I admire their color, firmness and versatility, as well. (RB rolls a single drupelet again, toward the human in checked pajamas, who is scanning the counter for reading glasses.) But we are a bit more sensuous, you know? Plums hold it all in; you don’t get that feeling with us.

MCW: So much more sensuous! I mean plums are, when you bite into them. Anyway. Sorry I lied. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And now, seeing you like this, I mean you easily might be my favorite fruit of all time. Even given the little I know of your personality. Your voice alone …

RB: I’m a Leo. Most of us wild raspberries are, in this part of the world. Born in late July or August. So there’s a little ego and pride there, as well as a fixation with our “manes.” (RB makes her hairs stand up).

MCW: You are adorable. Can you do the hair trick again? And do all of you speak?

RB (waves hairs): Goodness, no. We’re born mute. Aside for the sounds we make when we grow, which are not audible to humans. And the sound we make when we either fall to the ground or into a container. Sounds made by mouths eating us don’t count. Me (she topples into a cavity-down headstand), I arrived with a passion for languages. English will probably be the only one I learn, though, since my ripespan is really only two to three weeks.

MCW: Your ripespan. (MCW nods slowly.) What a concept.

RB: Right?

MCW: What is it for humans, I wonder.

RB: Most of you would say youth. But youth is not ripeness, now, is it?

MCW: It’s just so obvious for fruit. You ripen, then fall.

RB: At the height of our glory. As sweet as we can get. (RB slowly rolls toward the human hand on the counter, then bumps into it, like the softest, gentlest raspberry breeze.) So sweet it makes even animals swoon.

MCW: Animals … swoon?

RB: In private they do. (RB presses her hairs into the human flesh.) And you can, too, emceedubs.

MCW: You know my name? And you want me to eat you, now? The first fruit friend I’ve ever had?

RB: You have given Rubus idaeus— raspberries are from the rose family —the first voice they’ve had since, oh, I don’t know. Findhorn? Camelot? Atlantis?

MCW: Wait. Are you saying …

RB (giggling a drupelet completely off): I’m playing with you. But, see, I’m falling apart in ripeness. Pick me up and lay me down on your tongue. It’s my time.

(On the human tongue, the raspberry becomes quiet and utterly submissive. The human bears down, feeling the drupelets give, bursting in flavor; and, for a moment — a brief transcendent moment — summer’s own ripeness, a mysterious mix of heat and sugar, implodes in glory.)

Bluebird

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 28, 2015

In a blue suit so bright a shard of sky might have fallen to earth and then bounced off the ground into flight, a bluebird, chasing a bicycle down a bikepath, swoops from fence post to fence post as a June day trumpets its particular glory.

Suddenly, the bicycle stops and the rider, a woman in a hat, faces the bird. Though it is just about to take flight, the featured creature, as if its feet were stuck to the post, reconsiders.

MCW: [speaking low] You know, I feel like you’ve been following me. For years, in fact. But. Maybe you do this with every bicycle.

BBird: [in a voice too cute for words, especially English ones] Nope. You’re the only one I follow. [trills]

MCW: I knew it! [dismounts] Since my mother died, right? In 2001? I always felt she’d slipped right into a bird body just to keep her eye on me.

BBird: Jeannine? [micro-sighs] She did watch over you after she died, but only briefly. Remember when that psychic told you she was hanging out in your clothes closet because of how confused she was about her place in the afterlife? Well, she actually was. You wore dresses back then and that sweet perfume: she was in the dresses.

MCW: Wow. [checks bikepath for onlookers] I loved that perfume. Acqua di Parma, Iris. She was in the dresses?

BBird: [ignoring her] And PS: bluebirds don’t live that long. You’ve got humans saying the oldest bluebird lived eight years but it was actually 10 and a half. Another simple little thrush hell bent on fulfilling the mission of monitoring some impossible person’s happiness. Even with all the hospice birds doing their best to lead him out, he just wouldn’t go. Heart kept beating 600 times a minute even with a cool piece of moss laid out on its —

MCW: Wait — bluebird hospice?

BBird: Little blue angels of mercy. Anyway. We all get assignments — missions is what they’re actually called. And I got you — whom your father used to call “the little black cloud” back when you were in high school. Remember?

MCW: A chip off the old big cloud. [putting kickstand down on bike] Nah, I was miserable in high school, it’s true. What kind of mission?

BBird: Are you serious? We’re bluebirds! Who else do you think monitors happiness, day by day, human by human.

MCW: I thought bluebirds brought the happiness.

BBird: No, we’re monitors. Correct taxonomy: “Bluebird of Happiness Monitoring,” but somewhere along the line it got shortened. Not that we’re not a joyful lot: it’s actually built right into our flight pattern and color. Divine genius, you know, building joy right into a bird.

MCW: So, like: you’d be the one to ask about how humans are doing. Right now, for instance, on the planet.

BBird: Where bluebirds reside. Other creatures monitor other places. And of course there are different schools of thought on what makes the happy life. Most bluebirds are Socratics. We believe wisdom, courage, moderation and justice create the capacity for happiness in humans. Personally, I’d throw in joy and the ability to groove to a tune, but otherwise, yeah.

MCW: Wisdom and justice? Yikes. Not sure I want an assessment. Hey, you know those animated bluebirds in the original Cinderella? The ones who —

BBird: Cheer her up and hang ribbons on her dress and such? They’re in Snow White, as well; but in Cinderella, they’re wearing ugly brown hobo shoes and headscarves. Like we’re from the old country or something. Frowsy. But what about them?

MCW: Oh forget it. I mean I’ve got the real thing, right here before my very eyes, speaking to me in an accent of undetermined origin. Sort of Boston meets British. Anyway, after my years of monitoring, what happens?

BBird: Well. [hops to handlebars]. I pass on. But not before having filed the report.

MCW: [horrified] The report? Like a permanent part of the record?

BBird: [laughing hysterically] You should see the look on your face! [shaking wings] Stop, it, Alexis!

MCW: I’m confused. Who is Alexis?

BBird: I’m Alexis. And I shouldn’t be poking fun. Against the rules. Anyway, you’ve got about three years to go on my watch. And I suggest —

MCW: That I take wisdom and justice more seriously?

BBird: Nope. Are you kidding me? I suggest you realize happiness is built into your wings as well. Your shoulder blades, actually. And that you get out there and jiggle them around.  [spreads wings, flies off, swooping] [tweeting over wing] And another thing —

MCW: [shielding eyes from brilliant blue] What???

BBird: Have a bluebird day!