The Strawberry and the Cardinal
One day this man walking along the road approaches a farmer tending his strawberry patch. He is enjoying a holiday, hiking from one country inn to another. Each day he sees sights he has never seen before and dines sumptuously each evening on the best foods and wines that can be offered. A bit weary from walking, he stops and asks the farmer what he is doing.
“Tending strawberries, neighbor,” the farmer responds. “Here have one.”
With that the farmer reaches down and plucks a ripe red berry brimming with juices and hands it to the walking man who promptly bites into the fruit and tosses the stem onto the ground.
“Not bad,” said the walking man, but I prefer my strawberries in jam, smeared on toasted bread with butter, and a big cup of hot coffee with cream.
The farmer’s brow furrowed as he watched the man walk away.
Later that same day a woman approached on the same road carrying a load. She dropped her burden under a shady tree growing at the edge of the farmer’s strawberry patch, sat down, pulled a canteen of water from a bag and drank slowly with her eyes closed. After she had rested for a moment, she also spoke to the farmer whose labors had brought him close to the corner of the field where she rested. She asked him what he was doing.
“Tending strawberries, neighbor.” Said the farmer, at which he plucked a ripe strawberry and handed it to her.
The woman looked closely at the strawberry, noticing the topography and strange texture of the fresh fruit, its exquisite form, its deep red color, the way the juices within seemed almost ready to break through the surface. She brought the berry to her nose, and closed her eyes, allowing its fragrance to rise gently into her nostrils as she lightly breathed in. Then she took a bite, savoring the burst of flavors throughout her mouth, the cascade of pure sweetness, juice escaping from her mouth but quickly lapped from her lower lip by her tongue. For a moment she sat, chewing the first small bite, paused, then took another and another, each time allowing the fruit to wash across her senses.
“Thank you” she said as she opened her eyes. “I have never tasted anything to compare with this berry.” Her smile is matched by the smile in the eyes of the farmer who with a slight bow places in her hands three more strawberries as he plucks one more for himself.
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Outside the old man’s window a sort of brushy thicket grows. The old man, unable to rise from his bed, sits for hours watching whatever happens in the world through this tiny aperture. In spring and summer, the brush is covered in green leaves. Blooms appear among some of the leaves from a tall crepe myrtle mixed in among the other trees.
In the fall and winter, the brush loses its leaves and the branches take on grey and bleached brown casts. This is the old man’s favorite time of year.
From time to time, as he sits in his bed, especially if the sun is not shining brightly, especially if there has been rain overnight and the trees are still wet, dripping, he may see among the grey and brown branches a male cardinal sitting in the brush. Its garish red feathers, black eyes, and brilliant yellow beak stand out from the greys and browns. If its feathers are wet the bird sometimes flusters them wildly making tiny droplets of water spray in every direction. He never stays long when he comes, a flash of red amongst the ashy brush.
Some days the cardinal does not appear at all. These are the days the old man loves best of all.