Wild Strawberries

I am sitting in a fir tree, eating wild strawberries.

Wild strawberries, at least the kind found in Northern California, are a strangely unsatisfying fruit. I think it is perhaps the result of all of the metaphor and expectations which are built up around wild strawberries, and the false promise each fruit holds. They are bright red, which is seductive, and they are small, but this leads you to think that they will be sweet because the sweetness is concentrated in such a small space. There is the sense that each fruit is a tiny gem swelling with possibility. And there is the pleasure of hunting for them, ferreting them out in the shade and squinting against the sun to spot them hiding under dark green leaves.

Yet, each strawberry is rather bland and uninteresting. They are not as juicy as one might expect, and it kind of reminds me of nibbling on cardboard. There is a dryness and also a dryingness, something slightly acidic and dulling about wild strawberries. One might wonder why I keep eating them, given this fact, and I think it’s because each time, I hope it will be different. I think that perhaps this is the time when it will change, when I will bite down and the fruit will explode with flavor and make me salivate with deliciousness instead of in an embittered reaction to dryness and acidity.

As for why I was sitting in a fir tree on this particular day, the answer to that is simple: It was a convenient place to sit. It’s not as though benches are scattered about willy nilly for people to use, and thus, one must make do with what is available. Clambering a few feet up into a fir tree, one can find a nice broad branch or array of branches to sit on, a sweetly-scented bower which provides shade from the hot sun while also allowing the light to filter through in splatters which glance against the leaves, the pages of my book, my clothes.

There’s another reason to sit in a tree. And that’s that it allows you to passively observe without being noted. Humans do not generally expect to find humans in trees, and this means that a human in a tree is afforded a great deal of privacy, as long as that human doesn’t make a ruckus. From my perch I can see the things going on around me and I can hear people, but they are not aware of me, and thus they behave as though they are not being watched.

While I eat my cardboardy wild strawberries, I think about the fact that human activities are, inevitably, a performance. And how much energy people put into performing. How anxious we all are to get it right. How relieving it must be when no one is watching and you no longer must perform, can allow the mask to drop, can simply be. People are peculiarly and wonderfully beautiful when they think that they are not being watched. They are focused and intent on what they are doing and they move with a sort of unconscious grace which is ruined by the presence of a known observer.

Observing of fellow humans is, of course, a profession, but it can also  be a hobby. I know that most people like to study humans in groups, to look at how they interact with each other, but I like to see humans alone in public settings. There is a strange between-space inhabited, in which people believe that they are alone, but are still aware that they are in places which could be frequented by other people, so they must pay lip service to social norms.

I was waiting for someone that day and perhaps it was cruel of me, but I rather enjoyed not outing myself. I watched the arrival, the clambering out of the car, the hesitation and the confusion. The knock on the door, the tilted head and shuffle, the trotting around to the back door to knock there. The standing in the yard looking about, the peering over to the neighbors, the checking of the watch.

I am normally a very prompt and timely sort of person, but there is something interesting about watching people who wait. Perhaps it is the result of frustration about the endless hours I have spent waiting for people who cannot respect me enough to show up on time. Perhaps it is a simple enjoyment of watching people, an outgrowth of my preference for observing as compared to participation. I like to watch, but I do not like to engage.

This person eventually settled down on the front stoop with a book to read, and I slithered down from the tree and approached from the woods at the back of the house to maintain plausible deniability; I was in the woods, it was later than I thought, terribly sorry, but I did find some wild strawberries.

“You know, the funny thing is,” this person said, “I’ve always found wild strawberries to be a singularly anticlimactic fruit.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that I remembered that I had left my book in the tree. By the time I went to retrieve it, it had been damped by dew but dried again, and the pages had a certain crisp, slightly surreal feel, as though the book had recently been something else and had only just now decided that it might try being a book for a bit, just to see what might happen.