There is more to being an artist than the ability to paint or sculpt or write poetry. The essence of an art is to evoke emotion and it is accomplished when the artist has an acute perception of details, most importantly, the subtle details of the human condition and what objects trigger it. One could paint a perfect scene, but without this translation of the human heart, mind, soul into an image it becomes, simply, a picture.
Shinehah moved in to the High Street garden house a few years ago. She goes about her business quietly, but the intensity of her observations, her emotions, is not lost on the rest of us here. She became our artist in residence, gracing us with objects of her creation, each one touched by a life full of hardships, joys and musings. Each painting, sculpture and even conversation from her is a true piece of art.
She shared with me the following story, which she granted me permission to print. It reminded me of one of my own stories (which I’ll save for later) and something my dad used to tell me. He’d say, “You should tell people the nice things you think about them when you encounter them, because you may not get another chance.” He would remind me of this after telling strangers something nice about the way they looked, or sharing a humorous moment in line at the grocery store. As I child I found these acts embarrassing, the way he talked to strangers in an intimate way, telling them how nice they looked in a particular color or whatever it was. As an adult, I recognize the meaning in these moments and how, like art, even a smile given at the right time can change the someone’s entire outlook.
As I was picking a few of the first red raspberries from Haven’s garden on this sunny day, the berries soft, mild, and warm from the sun, a memory came to me. The berries reminded me of a man who made a difference in my life, but will probably never know it.
It might have been about 8 years ago now on a warm day when I was at work, out reading water meters on the agricultural wells of the Pajaro Valley. That day, I was up above Riverside road in the strawberry and raspberry fields at the base of the mountain. I hadn’t talked to anyone almost all day. I had been driving from field to field, getting out of the truck, walking to the wells and back to my truck. I was feeling very raw.
The day before, I had had a confrontation with someone over an issue that I felt was my professional responsibility to uphold, and the person had been very irrational, unfair, and mean, raising their voice at me and threatening me. Something about the way the person had threatened me in such a nasty way had triggered an old feeling of terror and sadness from when I was a child, and I had gone home shaking and crying for most of the afternoon.
This next day it felt good to be out working by myself. I came to a field where the gate was locked and there appeared to be no-one around. Nursing my hurt feelings, I parked the truck, ducked under the gate, and hiked for about ten minutes along the top of the field towards the well. The field was sloped slightly down from me, and the rows of raspberries were under what they call “hoops,” plastic hoop-shaped covers held up by aluminum bars. A gentle warm breeze that smelled like raspberries was coming through the hoops toward me as I walked along the farm road.
I got to the well and was reading the meter, saying the numbers to myself as I wrote them down, when an old Mexican man pulled up in a pickup truck and stopped, leaning out the window. I immediately went on guard because sometimes the customers in this area of the valley were in the habit of yelling at the meter readers about their bill or their angry views on water politics. I looked up at the man and he said, “hello.” I said, “hi,” and continued writing down the numbers.
When I was done I started walking back to my truck and he said, “What are you doing?” I replied that I was reading the water meter. He asked if I had walked all the way in and I said yes. He said, “Here, let me give you my phone number. Next time you come, call me and I’ll unlock the gate for you so you don’t have to walk.” I relaxed. This wasn’t one of those ones who had a grudge against the water agency, and I was always glad to have the farmer’s cell phone numbers in case I needed them to turn off their water for a meter repair. “Would you like some raspberries?” he asked. I politely declined, and started walking. He asked me if I wanted a ride, and I told him I would rather walk, that I liked to walk. He looked incredulous, and then told me to have a good afternoon as he drove around to the other side of the field, checking on drip lines.
Relieved, because I didn’t really like talking to strangers, and I just wanted to be in my quiet sulking, I walked up to the gate, and halfway down the other side of the field to read the meter on the 2nd well on the property. He drove past, then stopped a few rows down, and walked down the row of berries.
Before I was done reading the meter, he came up to me and handed me a small plastic “clamshell” container of big, perfectly ripe raspberries. “Here, take this with you,” he said with a gentle smile, “and you be careful out there.” I thanked him, even though I didn’t really want them because they weren’t organic.
I saw these fields every season, and knew how many pesticides and fungicides went into the soil and plants. I usually give the berries farmers give me me to my coworkers. As I walked back to the truck, the gentle smile the old man had given me warmed me. I felt the pain and anger of the previous day melt away.
When I got in my truck, I opened the clamshell and took one berry out of the perfectly packed container. It was warm and soft, completely ripe, and tasted like the breeze that had been coming off the rows, mild and sweet. I ate another and tears started to flow. That man will never know how his little kindness touched my heart, made me feel not alone, melted my anger and hurt. I ate the whole container, crying and driving down the dusty road. When the berries were gone, I felt comforted like no other food had ever comforted me before. Ever since, I have had a special affection for raspberries.