Blueberries

Posted on February 9, 2015 by

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I really love blueberries.

There is the crisp blue of a spring day and then there is the abysmal color of the blueberry, blue as Krishna, a blue that seems darker than black because instead of the flat lack of tone the little bit of pigment makes looking into it like the deepest part of forever. Also its skin always gets ashy as if it’s covered in some kind of oxide dust. You think that it might be cold and catching a fog from the fridge but they are like that on the branch too, if you can find them.

That pelt gives any blueberry an ancient mystique. The thing is shaped like a tiny cartoon bomb, only with a waxy fabric texture like every smooth thing looks under an electron microscope, or the surface of a rubber monster or a distant planet. Or like some very old metal. Its skin appears to feel the way William Burroughs’s voice sounds. But then you bite into one and it’s just a bright little ball of wine.

Of course the skin is also what makes a blueberry so healthy powerful. When Jamie Gold won 12 million dollars at the World Series of Poker in 2006, he did so while smacking on blueberries at the table. He called it brain food and, yep, blueberry pericarps (the outer layer) are stuffed with anthocyanins that both makes them blue colored and leads to evidence of improved memory and mental performance in human studies. We learn that wild blueberries are better for this reason—but only if you eat the same total of handfuls, not the same total of berries. That’s because it’s not fresher nature in this case, but greater surface area in numbers. Smaller wild berries, if they fill the same volume, will offer richer goodness than cultivated ones that are plumper but more juiceflesh than skin.

I was remembering this a few weeks ago after a friend made a special cordial using liquor enmeshed with last year’s blueberries. Whenever I’m in the midst of writing projects I search out blueberries to stir the mind. But it’s January and growing blueberries are hard to come by. I went to the grocer thinking of a punnet or two, but when I inspected the label I ran into the classic problem. These blueberries flew on a refrigerator jet from Chile. My blueberry problem may not be your blueberry problem, but if I wanted a dose of Chilean guilt I’d sit through Death and the Maiden again. I ended up buying a quart of Bolthouse Farms blueberry juice, figuring it may voyage on a truck from California but at least I could believe the berries were frozen at harvest to await juicing—and not rushed to their delivery by a deadly economy. Yet I wonder how much of the vital skin got separated out by the juicing mills, and I picture those other blueberries resting however many months skins and all in the suspending, recombining alcohol, and the different modes of transubstantiation through time.

Now I know I have an easier life than most people, but even I sometimes forget while riding my bicycle how much it feels like flying.

Then there’s Blues Berry in From Here to Eternity, beaten to death in the Schofield Barracks Stockade. “Call me Blues Berry sometime. Razz Berry. Jazz Berry. Fuckle Berry. Goosy Berry—all them like that,” he says when meeting Private Prewitt on the rockpile. The stockade episode marks a spiritual underground descent, where Berry initiates Prewitt into a ring of conscious malcontents within the Army prison, men who discuss transcendental meditation, Joe Hill and the Wobblies, early Christian martyrdom; together the group practices a sort of ascetic fight club and all manner of radical mysticism at night. Blues Berry’s torture and murder by the guards comes from helping a fellow prisoner break his own arm with a rock hammer, to put him out of the stockade and into the hospital, away from the guards’ abuse and bullying. The official reports list Berry dead from a fall off a truck. That’s not the end of the novel’s tragedy, but Blues music also runs through From Here to Eternity like blood through a shambles. The soldiers get together on spare time and payday to sing old Blues of railroads and coal mines, and make up new Blues, the Re-enlistment Blues.

Is there any doubt Blues has the color of blueberries? Of difficult decisions and sacrifice? That eternal, nebular, blushing blue that grows in the stem of your brain, and the more and wilder the better?


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