The bleached-out sun beats down, relentless, giving the world a slightly-frayed look: colors of summer slowly unraveling into white. He is a banked-coal weight on my back, delighted by this new experience, the new sights and sounds and smells that are his for the embracing. A deep blue hat keeps his face in shadow, safe, while a trickle of sweat begins to form in the long channel of my spine.
The woman at the stand gives us specific instructions- "Go to the shorter bushes. They have the larger berries. And start in the middle of the row, not the end- you'll find more."
We are in the habit of listening to the wisdom of experts, and it soon becomes apparent that we are wise in our habits. I find a likely-looking place to start, and crouch down, setting the box- and my water bottle- just so. Then, because we are the only ones there, I take him off my back, and settle him in a patch of shade within reach of the berries. I am counting on the novelty to keep my sprout rooted to the spot.
Although they fall swiftly to my attention, the berries on the bushes prove difficult to harvest for tiny fingers new to the pincher-grasp, and so he takes to collecting the fallen. While I approve of his ingenuity, I am less thrilled by the accompanying handfuls of mulch that are subsequently shoved into his mobile mouth.
I move the box so that he will reach into it for his berries, thereby hoping to avoid a throat-full of splinters. He is delighted by this development, for it makes his berry-acquisition easier still. For a while we work in companionable silence; I put a handful in the box, he takes a handful out. Fortunately his hands are small, and the level in the box slowly rises.
And then I realize that he is in very real danger of asphyxiating himself in his enthusiasm for this new-found bounty, and so I rearrange once more: now the box is out of reach, and one pale, motherly leg forms a barrier between him and the mulch. I hand him berries one at a time, which slows my collection rate but soothes my paranoia; he is still probably eating far too many for a creature of his mass, but at least they are going into his stomach and not his lungs. He is simply happy- happy to be outside, happy to be eating berries, happy to be with me. Happy baby boy.
He will not remember this day, spent feasting in the shade of hardy shrubs, but I will- my heart stained, indelibly, with his blueberry grin.