My mom loved nature.

She loved flowers, the birds (particularly flaming red cardinals and their songs), growing vegetables in her garden. Being immersed in nature was something that gave her peace in an otherwise unpredictable world.

She would spend countless hours tending her garden each spring and summer from dawn until dusk. Many evenings I was the lucky recipient of a fresh batch of pesto straight from our garden or a homemade blackberry pie from berries she picked that day. She truly loved to cook for her family.

 She also knew the meaning of “just desserts”.

Every summer until I was about twelve, my mother would lead my father and I out to a large farm in New York State to go strawberry picking. My mother experienced profound joy in harvesting several hours’ worth of strawberries, painstakingly processing the lot back at home and producing dozens of jars of strawberry jam to be stored in our pantry as well as given as gifts to friends and family during the holidays. Needless to say, these trips weren’t your average jaunt to the berry patch as a recreational pursuit.

As a child, I couldn’t fully appreciate the process that my mother was taking us through. I generally preferred to stay indoors and the long hours (maybe four or even five) spent laboring in the intense summer heat felt more like torture than anything else. Then there was the rinsing and trimming and preparation of the berries for the jam.  I’m sure I put my mother through many hours of complaining but she was always persistent with her efforts and I always followed through with the process alongside her till the end. The days efforts culminated (usually around midnight) with the tasting of hot bubbly strawberry jam on bread, for a taste, before jarring up the rest. For all the challenge of my efforts, it was somehow all worth it when indulging in that sweet, delicious bread.

My memory of those days is wrapped up in the taste of that bread, the fragrance of the summer air, the feeling of physical exhaustion of the days hard labor, the look of deep satisfaction my mother had, and the connection that was cultivated between myself and nature as well as my mother and I.

My mother passed away unexpectedly when I was fourteen and sadly our strawberry picking days together ended. She had shared her love of nature, food, and hard work with me. She taught me that there are rewards for your efforts.  I wished I could have told her thank you, I didn’t realize at the time how much those things meant to her.

When my two sons were born, I began taking them strawberry picking. Most years we keep our picking relatively simple (there was one year I tried to replicate my mother’s efforts with my then five and two-year-old and it took me several months to recover). I’ve kept the tradition up in the hopes that my boys will also experience what I have. There’s no better time than now to cultivate our children’s connection with nature and all that it has to offer.