Almost every morning I have the same breakfast: a bowl of banana, yogurt, granola and blueberries. Maine blueberries, of course! Where I grew up on Long Island, New York, someone had the brilliant idea to plant blueberries in the median strip of the highway near our house. My brother, our friends and I would go there to pick them, then take them home and bake them into blueberry muffins. We peddled the muffins door-to-door to earn pocket money.

I never encountered lowbush blueberries until I moved to Maine. Native to Northern New England and Canada, these wild lowbush berries were grown on a large scale by native Wabanaki people, who burned the fields to prune them. They were dried to make blueberry cakes, to season soup and to cure meat. The syrup was used as a cough remedy and as a dye. It wasn’t until the 1840s that the cultivation and harvest of blueberries by white settlers began in earnest. Today there are 44,000 acres of blueberries grown commercially in Maine.

Kathleen Ellis teaches at the University of Maine. In the late 1970s she lived in Lubec in Washington County for a few years. She developed a taste for the local geology, landscape, fauna and flora, including the blueberry barrens. It wasn’t until after she moved away that she realized how much the topography of the area had defined her sense of place.

While a sense of community was important to her in that sparsely populated area, the land and water and night skies were even more so. She says, “[They] convinced me that being alive is much more than something cerebral. … Rather, being alive in a particular place opens a person’s ears, eyes, nose, & yes, throat to a larger sense of being human.” Maine called her back and she is now a permanent resident.

When she drives through the blueberry barrens or along the coast, she feels the need “to know and learn about everything around me, how everything survives year after year in this harsh, but resilient landscape.”

Kathleen’s poem, “What the Body Knows,” from her book “Outer-Body Travel,” is an ode to that merged sense of self and landscape.

What the body knows

This morning, driving alone

across the coastal barrens

I know for a moment

how the field waves to itself.

 

The acres of last year’s berries

have erupted into their native ruby,

not the bluish-red of their sweet tartness,

but wine-red, like the daylight

 

breaking into the body’s window,

 

where like these barrens

the body replicates itself,

cell into cell, tissue and fibers,

the contractions of desire —

 

Listen, you can hear the body

asking to be released, wanting

to bloom the way fields bloom —

in skin and stones and the ordinary.

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