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The International Writers Magazine: One day on the hill...

Blueberry Hill
Raymond K. Clement

Up in the area where we live there are two hills known as the Twin Peaks; so named long before the advent of the popular eighties television show. They rise, mantled in a green cloak of pine and evergreen, about fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor. Looking from the south the one on the right is overgrown and appears generally inaccessible. The one on the left is a different story.

A well-worn path switch-backs its way to the top, past a picturesque set of waterfalls that provide a daredevil ride in the summer for the kids, and a photo opportunity for those hardy souls who climb up in the spring and winter.

Late summer, as the leaves begin to turn and fall approaches, is the time to go to the top. There stands one of the most prolific and succulent patches of blueberries in creation. Sweet, large, dark purple fruit in such bounty that the blue of the berries rivals the green leaves of the bushes. Sitting in one spot a person can eat his fill without moving. The entire top is blanketed with low bushes that grow no higher than a man’s thigh. I doubt if there is a freezer at any home in our small town that doesn’t have a bag or two ready to be thawed out on a cold January night, either to find their way into a blueberry cobbler for dessert, or more likely into a rich batter for pancakes in the morning.

With my wife carrying a good supply of plastic containers in her backpack along with a light lunch, I hoisted our eighteen-month-old son into his carrying pack on my back, and we started up the trail. We knew it well and climbed quickly and silently up to the cutoff at the waterfalls that signaled the steepest part of the climb. Gary was at his playful best, covering my eyes with his hands, to see if I could stay on the trail. I played around for a little while as he clapped his approval.

As we gained altitude, the trees began to thin out, giving way to stunted ones and bushes as we reached the summit. There the blueberry patch stretched out before us. It was a weekday and still early in the morning, dew glistened on the shiny green leaves of the bushes. No one was about, as I had suspected, and we headed for an area that we almost considered our private preserve. It was just to the left of the crown and required bushwhacking through some bracken and clamoring over some rocks to reach. This assured its almost virgin condition. It appeared that no one had been in it, and I examined the underside of the bushes revealing clusters of ripe berries in almost unbelievable profusion.
"Look at these sweetheart, no one has, touched them." My son was almost tipping me over as he stretched out trying to reach the berries.
"Hold on a minute, tiger." I freed him from the rig and he trundled off to his mother.
The sky was a crystalline blue, not a cloud in sight. I spied a hawk over to the right making large circles, looking for a late morning snack. The town looked even more peaceful from this height than it did in reality. Off to the west a tall plume of white smoke rose from the paper mill that was the only reason for its existence. A slight breeze rustled the bushes but beyond that, there wasn’t a sound except our own bustling about. Idyllic was the only adjective that applied.

June set to work unloading the plastic containers, giving one to Gary, which he would dutifully fill after he had had his fill. I warned him, needlessly, not to eat too many and get a tummy ache. He would eat too many and complain all the way back down. I sat him down between June and myself so we both could keep an eye on him. She was already busy at work. Gary was at that stage, between walking and crawling. He could go great distances in an incredibly short span of time; he required constant watching.
My wife looked over at us, brushing back a strand of her long blond hair and wordlessly smiled. I marveled at how she could pick without eating as I sat on my haunches chomping on a mouthful, so juicy that I had to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand as the purple liquid ran down my chin. Our son mimicked my actions. He already had purple hands, and juice all over his face. He scooted away through the bushes towards his mother.
"Here comes a purple people eater, June." She hoisted him in the air as I called out.
"Got him," she said as she set him back down and headed him back in my direction. I did the same when he returned; this game went on for a few minutes until he tired of it. As he went back and forth, the only thing you could see was the top of his head and his brownish blond hair as he scurried through the bushes. He stopped midway between us to eat some more berries. I started filling one of those plastic ice cream containers, eating more berries as I went. I chuckled to myself; June would have both her men trekking back down the mountain complaining with bellyaches.

We started earnestly to work, sort of, I knew that my wife would do the majority of the berry picking; Gary and I were just along for the ‘heavy lifting’, so to speak. We each entered our private worlds as we gathered the fruit. Our son was busy babbling to himself. My wife, her back to me, was busy with the tasked at hand. My thoughts wandered to a tough little case that was on the front burner at the office. I was the town’s sole attorney. The matter in question involved some renovations at the local Moose Club, and some serious bill padding by the local contractor, who was also a Moose. Tempers had flared, and; something caught the corner of my eye, and I quickly turned my head to see the hawk I had seen earlier riding an updraft high above the mountain. I wondered if they instinctively knew about thermal air currents or was it a learned response.

I returned to the Moose case. A little altercation had broken out at the club the other night; the police were called. Actually, they did not have to be called, the two-man force was there . . . Suddenly I was overtaken by a dark shadow, a warm wind rushed against my back and neck, and I heard the strangest sound. All I could think of was that it reminded me of the beating of a rug; flap, flap, flap.

To this very day, I cannot explain what happened next. I think about it occasionally, but no satisfactory explanation of my response to the situation has ever presented itself for I found myself hurtling through the air to land athwart my son, arms and legs outspread. I felt something brush against my head and I looked up to see a hawk or eagle, it was so large, disappearing over the crest of the hill. Gary was frightened for a second but thought Daddy had invented a new game, and then began to laugh.
"June, June," I shouted in the stillness. "Did you see it? Did you see it," I repeated.
"See what?" slightly exasperated that her thoughts and berry picking had been interrupted. "And are you two playing games instead of working?" She asked, seeing me straddling our son. All I could say was "Forget it," but my heart was beating like a trip-hammer as I picked up Gary in my arms. Neither of them had seen what I had seen.

Much later I think I somewhat figured out what had happened.

The hawk, circling the mountaintop, must have spotted the golden brown hair of my son bobbing and moving about beneath the bushes, probably thought it was a rabbit, and dove for the kill. As large as the bird was, or appeared, I seriously doubt that he could have lifted the child off the ground. But the talons, they could have done serious damage. They are designed to dig deeply into flesh securing a struggling, twisting prey. I shudder to think what they could have done to my son’s head. My sudden appearance on the scene scared him off at the last moment.

I have never spoken of the incident. However, a week or so ago, as Gary and I were enjoying some beer in the back yard, I told him the tale as we looked up at the Twin Peaks in the lengthening afternoon shadows. He was incredulous, but believed me because he remembered and thought it a little strange that I never wanted to go berry picking on the Twin Peaks, despite their reputation for the blueberry patch.
I have always wondered if it was just a flight of fancy; a passing cloud, a warm sudden zephyr, and the bird just leaving after circling that I juxtaposed in my mind. Perhaps it was my imagination. But there is the sound I heard: the flap, flap, flap. And there is one more thing: an odor, a strange musty smell that accompanied the sound and the shadow. I have never encountered its’ like since.
I also have never returned to the top of that mountain.

© Raymond K Clement June 2006
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