They appear in the early summer down the dirt road, low to the ground. Scraggly green, lighter than clover, but the leaves are similar in shape. Take a tin bowl out of the lower cupboard and put your sneakers on in case you run into a snake. You are sore afraid of snakes.
Tell your sisters you’re going, but only if you want company, which you might not. Walk down the dirt road. The heat of the earth is rising in shimmers, and all the smells of early summer are there: sweet grass strewn on the field from the first haying, manure spread on the far pasture, flowers you don’t know the names of.
Crouch down and turn over the light green leaves. See that tiny red ball? That’s a wild strawberry. If you’ve never seen one, you might not recognize it, it’s so much smaller than its laboratory-bred cousin. If it were a human it would be a Little Person. No, it would be a Microscopic Person.
Wild strawberries are so small that sometimes they mush between your fingers when you’re picking them. That’s all right. Go ahead and eat the mushed ones. Put the whole ones, cap and stem and all, into your tin bowl.
It will take you a long, long time to fill that bowl. Or maybe not. You wouldn’t know, because in your nine years you’ve never filled one. An hour or so into the search, a half-mile or so down the dirt road, the drowsy stillness of the sun and the fields and the woods overtakes you.
Why am I saving these strawberries? you think. Why shouldn’t I eat them all right now?
There will never be enough wild strawberries for any sort of kitchen magic. They’re too small, too hard-earned. A cupful would barely be enough for a batch of muffins. Who would want to eat wild strawberry muffins anyway? All muffin, no berry.
Go ahead. Sit down in that patch of Indian paintbrush and eat them all. Stain your fingers with that particular kind of red. Lie down in the sun and close your eyes.
You are young. It doesn’t matter. You know you’ll come down here another day, with the same tin bowl. Another summer. You’ll come down this road forever. And everything will be the same – the tiny trembling berries, the shiny tin bowl, your stained and dusty sneakers, your scratched and bitten legs, the sun beating on your long dark hair – until everything changes.