Tonight, I tore myself away from my laptop long enough to go out into my “zen garden” (as a friend very kindly referred to it today) and spend a few minutes just being outside — not gardening, not fussing with the plants, just being.

OK so maybe I fussed a little bit: hanging up my new hummingbird feeder, propping up a sunflower whose head had gotten so heavy that it was leaning halfway down to the ground, etc. But otherwise I just wandered around aimlessly, enjoying the fact that I live in the middle of a city block and can enjoy relative peace and quiet (except for when the neighbor’s cat jumped from our fence into another neighbor’s backyard, taunting the small dog therein — pure evil, I tell you!) literally in my own backyard.

Almost daily, my husband and I have been checking on our rapidly ripening crops of yellow plums and red apples. Today, for the first time this year, I found a plum that was ripe just to my liking: still firm, yet yielding to the touch. And the smell — oh, that smell. It took me back to childhood, to the old farmhouse where we grew up, and the red plum tree that spread its branches in our front yard and produced pound after pound of ridiculously juicy, violently red fruit every year. Our dog, when we had one, would eat them off the ground until she made herself sick, and the very next day go back for more. The rest of us also gorged ourselves on a regular basis, although we preferred to eat them in baked form: pies, crumbles, jams, jellies, you name it.

Around the same time, our house would shut down for a day or two for the annual round of canning. It was a mysterious and exciting time of the year, one that involved large quantities of fruit and sugar, all of which are Very Good Things as far as a child is concerned. My mom and grandma would do the plum jam, of course, along with apricot, raspberry, and boysenberry, but also tomatoes (whole and in sauce), and just about anything else that we had too much of to eat at one time. All I can recall of this complicated process was walking into the kitchen, which was busy masquerading as a smoldering volcano, and seeing my mother’s face rise up out of the billows, red as the fruits she was boiling. Glasses fogged, canning tongs in hand, she would drive us out of the stove area just as fast as we came in.

I don’t remember when we stopped canning our harvest bounty, but it was well before I was old enough to take any real interest in it. Thus when my husband suggested that we can the mounds of plums that are soon to grace our backyard, I had to admit that I have no idea what that actually entails.

But today, those future mounds of plums are still hard and yellow on the tree. Instead, I found just one, perfectly ripe, along with a windfall apple that didn’t have too many worm holes in it. I took them both inside, chopped them up, and ate them. The plum, still warm from its place in the afternoon sun, tasted every bit as good as I’d anticipated. The apple, on the other hand, not only had a hidden worm hole in it (thankfully no worm), but was sour and hard. I ate it nonetheless, which could explain why I’m feeling about as green as our dog used to look in the height of plum season.

It’s amazing how the simplest things can take you back like that. With that one warm plum, suddenly I was a chubby, bowl-haired, big-eyed kid again, gorging myself on plums along with my skinny, quiet little brother and our overgrown beast of an Irish wolfhound.

Ah summer, in all its bounteous, nostalgic glory.

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