Oh, I just think I'm so smart with all my live-off-the-land downtown techniques. Looks like about 100 kilos of cherries ripe on a big old tree whose branches conveniently bend down over the sidewalk for easy picking. This is a rental property, so there's no danger of owners defending their right to let the fruit rot and demanding, "Put those back!" A tenant, however, comes out to say, "Those are inedible. They'll make you sick." When I say I eat them every year, she amends her warning to, "Well, they're all seed." ("Pit" or "stone" is what she means, but she's obviously not an urban organicist.) True, these aren't large supermarket cherries. They're smaller and more elegant, like decorations on a 1920s hat.
My kitchen table is full of cherries, and I offer them to anyone who turns up. Then literature steps in. I recall a short story by Katherine Mansfield from a book given me by the smartest person I know before he fled this continent for good. (I took him some cherries.) In it there is a rather ridiculous character eating cherries in the garden of a Bavarian pension.
"All cherries contain worms," the character says. "Once I made a very interesting experiment with a colleague of mine at the university. We bit into four pounds of the best cherries and did not find one specimen without a worm. If one wishes to satisfy the desires of nature one must be strong enough to ignore the facts of nature."
With understandable trepidation I go to the kitchen to conduct an experiment of my own. I fill a bowl of water and dump in a handful of "specimens." I'd just been quickly rinsing them before eating. Within moments I have the sickening evidence of the timelessness of Katherine Mansfield. These cherries might not be fat, but the white worms popping out of them look very well fed.
They're probably burrowing into my heart right now or joining the Mexican creatures that lurk in my entrails. "When you came over to inhale the catalpa blossoms, I didn't give you cherries, did I?" I ask a friend. "No? Oh good! Oh, no reason." I picture my photo replacing the SARS-masked image as Public Health Enemy #1.
Apart from inadvertently sharing fruit riddled with writhing live protein, I try to keep to myself. My mentor is the thistle. Just hang around any old wild and prickly place. It sounds like a quiet life, but I never cease to be amazed by the random and completely unpredictable elements that turn up to keep it interesting
It's a rare day that I make a plan. The unnaturalness of it inevitably causes a nuit blanche, as the French so evocatively call a sleepless night. But a trip on the Trillium, the only steam-driven sidewheeler in operation, is too good to miss.
Cold drizzle is falling as I set out for the ferry docks. That lone mockingbird I've heard for the first time ever this year is valiantly running through its large repertoire, from bald eagle to cellphone, against the roar of the Big Dumb Car Race. Radio station AM 740 is sponsoring this harbour tour. The souvenir ticket with a picture of the Trillium, commissioned in 1910, costs the same as a regular ferry ride. A free lunch will be provided on Centre Island to any family of three generations. I might have rented a teenage mother for the day.
I recall when the Trillium could be seen lying derelict, as hopelessly sad and romantic as an abandoned Southern belle, sinking into the mud of an island lagoon. Then, in 1973, she was hauled out and painstakingly rejuvenated.
Up on the windy second deck a very old woman is shivering in a wheelchair, and I'm glad I will never be at the mercy of my children. The engineer arranges for a deckhand to take me up top to the captain's realm. The view from here confirms my immense respect for those who safely ferry thousands of people across this bay every year. The hazards are innumerable. Why is there a sailing school right in the harbour? Planes, ferry boats and people in tiny craft who have no idea what they're doing. Thursday regatta night is said to be the worst.
At Centre Island I leave the Trillium to pick wild strawberries. They don't have worms, just stinging ants.