Saturday, November 8, 2008

Blueberry leaves in the fall

This month's column is now available: "The color of blueberry leaves in the fall"

I have transplanted some blueberry bushes to our yard this fall, and hope to have a local supply of tasty berries and beautiful foliage next year.

The Color of Blueberry Leaves in the Fall
By Sandy Nichols Ward

A brilliant red bush caught my eye as I walked in the woods on a late October afternoon.  Deep red leaves, some almost red-black, others brighter, vibrant in the sunshine. I stopped and stared at the suddenly familiar leaf-shape and instantly recalled my mother's voice.

"The color of blueberry leaves in the fall!"

She loved blueberry bushes and had planted quite a few in our yard in Danvers. They surrounded her laundry yard and eventually grew so high that they shaded some of the laundry, but she didn't cut them back because she so enjoyed their beauty each fall.

We also, of course, enjoyed the fruit in summer. These were small blueberries of an old-fashioned or wild type, not the highly-cultivated ones that my grandfather grew along the path by the garden. His berries were huge and he was very proud of them, but my mother always thought her small ones were tastier. As a kid I wasn't fussy about the taste or size; I'd happily eat any blueberries.

Seeing the intense red color of blueberry leaves now brought to mind a different story, not the taste of summer fruit. I could visualize the hooked rug in the small living room of my childhood home and hear again my mother's tale of its creation. She hadn't made the rug herself, but she had directed its making. Strips of old wool cloth to be used in the hooking process were dyed various colors. Red was the main background color of the rug's design, and my mother wanted the red to match "the color blueberry leaves turn in the fall." She wasn't happy with light red or pink; the red had to be dark and strong. Many samples of dyed wool were rejected until just the right shade was achieved. That's the story I heard in my childhood about a rug created before my birth.

The resulting rug, hooked by Sadie May Morse of Marblehead, was unique and beautiful. Its design had been inspired by a "tree of life" pattern on a small Swedish rug. Sadie enlarged the pattern and incorporated into it various images and symbols that were meaningful to my parents. An image of them dancing together appeared near the center, not far from an image of their small house. The date of their wedding (1940) was hooked into one corner, their initials NPN and JCN in other corners, and the date of the rug (1942) in the fourth corner.

Over the years of living with that rug, we laughed often about its color and colorful history.  In truth, the red background color varied considerably. First of all, the wool strips had come from different sources and did not all take the dye in the same way. Later, sunshine from the windows gradually faded the dyed colors, so the rug became more muted in tone as time passed. There was also the unfortunate day when a house-painter and his can of white paint fell onto the rug. My mother was furious that he had leaned his ladder against the front door. The unlocked door burst open, sending ladder, painter, and paint into the living room! She cleaned the rug as best she could, and no evidence of the accident was visible for a while, unless you bent the rug and looked closely between the loops of wool. As the rug became worn, however, more and more of the white paint residue was revealed. Still, the dominant color was red, reminding us of the lovely color of blueberry leaves in the fall.

[published in the Danvers Herald in print and online November 6, 2008]