Friday, February 27, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: Grapes and Cranberry Greens

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, elf friend
August 4
6:10 PM
Grapes and Cranberry Greens

“What are those fruits, Aidyn?” Apple Blossom asked when I held a container of grapes out to her. “They look just like onyx stones!”
“They’re called grapes,” I told her. “You’ve never had one before?”
            She shook her head. “Do they taste good?” she asked. “Can I taste one?”
            “They’re delicious,” I said. “They’re sweet like candy. And of course you can taste one, that’s why I brought them here.” I plucked a big grape from the bunch and handed it to Apple Blossom. She studied it for a few moments before popping it into her mouth—“Mmmm!” Her eyes lit up, and though she chewed politely she couldn’t stop a bit of juice from dribbling down her lip. When she finished, she held out her hand and asked, “Can I have another one, please?”
            I pulled a whole cluster of grapes from the bushel and placed them in her waiting hand. We ate as we made our way to the bridge, which was free of the beetle-like soldiers for the third day in a row. There would be no work or research today, as with yesterday. I had spent the day catching butterflies with Apple Blossom, Wildflower, and Holly Berry. The Jadeites have different names for butterflies than we do, and as enchanted as the girls seemed to be with our run-of-the-mill species names, I found the Jadeite terms to be vastly superior. A tiger swallowtail, for instance, is known as a “glorious sunbeam.” A mourning cloak is a “garnetwing,” and a painted lady is an “orange jewel.” The names they used made the butterflies sound as beautiful as they really were. After the butterfly hunting, we sat down to fresh baked fruit turnovers courtesy of the queen—not a servant or a cook, but the queen herself. We got two each, and I was pleased that she had gone out of her way to bake some for me. I went home that evening thinking, This is how it ought to be every day. No unnecessary work, no looking for ‘connections,’ just us enjoying our friendship for what it is.
            “Can I give some of the grapes to my friends?” Apple Blossom asked. “And can I take some home to Mother and Father?”
            “Sure you can,” I said. “I’ll even bring you some more the next time I come here.”
            It was a good day. The sun was shining, and it was the pleasant sort of warm that August brings after all of July’s sticky heat and humidity. The Bell’s Rush sang its happy tinkling bell song, mixed in with birdsong, the buzzing of cicadas, and the occasional croaking of early frogs. Sweet black grapes tasted even sweeter when you ate them with a friend on a day like today. “Let’s go pick cranberry greens with Raindrop,” Apple Blossom suggested. It didn’t sound like the most exciting thing to do, but I agreed to it because I wanted to see how Jadeites went about picking cranberry greens and what they used them for. Besides, cranberries grow in bogs, and there were plenty of interesting things to be found in bogs: bog stones, flowered reeds, frogs of all kinds, and more besides.
            Raindrop was helping her mother can the last of the season’s blueberries when we stopped by, but her mother was willing to let her go with us. She shot an icy look at me and told Raindrop, “Be careful.” Before I could respond, Apple Blossom chimed in with, “Of course we’ll be careful! We’re only picking greens. Oh, and would you and Raindrop care for some grapes? They’re a delightfully sweet fruit that Aidyn brought in from the human world!” She had emphasized the word “human” in order to make them sound interesting and exotic, but Raindrop and her mother looked uneasy, even appalled. “You shouldn’t be eating any human food, Apple Blossom,” Raindrop’s mother said. “They put strange things in their food. It may not be safe.”
            “There’s nothing strange in these grapes!” I assured her. “They’re only fruits, like your blueberries. Apple Blossom’s eaten about twelve of them now and she’s all right.” Apple Blossom nodded to affirm me. I held the container of grapes out to them. “Go on, try one.”
            Raindrop looked up at her mother, who carefully plucked a grape from the bushel and inspected it, before taking an experimental bite. “It’s very sweet,” she determined. “It’s so much sweeter than any fruit I’ve ever tasted.” She plucked another and handed it to Raindrop, who popped it into her mouth without a second thought. Her eyes sparkled with delight at the taste, and she quickly pulled off a second grape and was reaching for a third before I handed her a cluster.
            “Where do you get such sweet fruit?” Raindrop asked as the three of us headed down the road together.
            “From a store,” I told her. “The grapes are grown on far-away farms called vineyards, and sent to stores. We buy them from the stores. They’re so sweet because they’re grown that way—the farmer makes sure the grapes turn out as big and sweet as they possibly can.”
            “We grow things too,” said Raindrop, “but we don’t grow things like these. We grow berries and apples and greens and things like that.”
            “What do you pick cranberry greens for?” I asked. “Do you eat them?” I remembered watching them eat flowers at Apple Blossom’s party—they had looked very confused when I was forced to turn them down.
            “No,” said Apple Blossom, “we like to make things out of them.”
            I decided I wanted to be surprised. I didn’t ask anymore questions. We reached the bog, and Apple Blossom and Raindrop threw off their shoes and splashed into the tea-colored water. I set the container of grapes down and began to explore. I peered through reeds looking for frogs (unfortunately, there were none). I walked along the bank looking for bog stones. Apple Blossom waded up to me and tugged on my shirt. “Come on, Aidyn! Don’t you want to help us?”
            She didn’t have to ask me twice! I threw my shoes down on the bank, rolled up my jeans, and splashed on in—and yelped when I felt my feet sink into the mud. Immediately, the girls were at my side. “What’s wrong, Aidyn?” “Are you okay? Did something bite you?” “I’m fine, girls,” I assured them. “I didn’t expect the mud to be so deep. I’ve never gone wading in a bog before.” Though I had them rolled up, my jeans still sported a sopping layer of mud. Too bad I hadn’t thought to wear shorts like the girls had. Apple Blossom took me by the hand and helped me through the mud. The water was so dark and murky that my feet disappeared at the end of my legs. “How do you girls find anything here, much less some little greens?” I asked.
            “Look here!” Raindrop cried, beckoning me over to where she knelt down. I let go of Apple Blossom’s hand (“It’s okay, I can walk,” I assured her) and waded over to her. A little cluster of tiny green leaves stuck up from the water, adding a pleasant brightness to the murk. She grabbed the leaves and yanked out a mud-caked stalk of greens and tiny, unripe cranberries. Apple Blossom waded over to us, and the picking began. We waded, scouted, knelt, and yanked. We fell on our hands and knees into the mud and came up laughing and tossing our hair. We made several trips to the bank with handfuls of greens. Flies and dragonflies made music around us, and every so often a colorful butterfly would land on a reed and flex its wings before alighting.
            The water was cleaner along the bank, and that’s where we washed our greens and our hands. Now that we had a decent pile (that now included water lilies), I asked, “So, what are we going to do with them?”
            “Well, first we’ll color them,” said Apple Blossom, “and then we’ll make crowns, bracelets, and chains out of them.”
            I raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, color them?”
            Apple Blossom took a stalk and passed it between her fingers once, twice, three times…and the next thing I knew, the stalk was no longer green, but had turned a striking deep blue! “Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed with a gasp. “How in the world did you do that?”
            She answered by untucking from her collar the little jade stone that she wore around her neck. I wished more than ever that I could learn to work the jade essences and do pretty things like that. But I could do nothing but sit and watch as Apple Blossom and Raindrop colored the rest of the stalks blue, red, orange, yellow, gold, and pink. It was an astounding thing to see real magic in action right before my eyes, and I wondered what other kinds of magical powers were granted by the jade essences.
            After the stalks were colored, Apple Blossom sat down with me and guided me on how to weave them. She was simple and patient with her instructions as she gently guided my fingers along; “First, you move these leaves out of the way…you just flick them aside with your fingers, like so. Now, just tie these ends together. That’s it, Aidyn, just tie them right there! Now you weave them, like this…” It wasn’t long before I realized that it was essentially the same as making a daisy chain, which I had done on many boring summer afternoons. “I think I get it now, Apple Blossom,” I told her as I weaved the two gold stalks together. “Thank you. I can work from here.”
            Apple Blossom nodded. “Okay, but be sure to come to me if you need any help."
              “Will do,” I said with a smile. She scampered off, and I continued my work. I decided that any necklace I happened to make out of those lovely golden stalks would be a gift for Apple Blossom. I’d weave in the stalks of crimson red and add some of those tiny green cranberries as “jewels.” She would be delighted, as she had been with the crown I had made her for her birthday, which seemed like such a while back. Beside me, Apple Blossom supervised Raindrop’s construction with the same kind patience that she had shown me. It never stops amazing me just how human that she really is, even as the princess of a tribe of elven creatures so far removed from humanity.