By Jack Arnold

For the last few years of high school, before I entered college and before a lot of my cousins got jobs and started their careers, my family would have a big reunion each summer. My parents, uncles, and aunts always selected a place they had never been but wanted to visit. We traveled all over the US from Oregon to Florida on these family reunions, but one of the best trips we have ever gone on was to the state of Maine.

Being from Colorado I was skeptical about the east coast. I had been to Florida and New York and although I enjoyed my travels to these states, I always felt that the east coast was too developed, had too many people, and didn’t have enough of the nature that I love and that is so prolific in my home state. I thought the east had become one large concrete jungle and that I’d rather visit pretty much anywhere else. But Maine is different from the rest of the east coast. The first thing I noticed when I exited the seaboard of Massachusetts and New Hampshire was a large sprawling forest. This forest of Maine seemed so untouched and so free from the rest of the east coast. I loved it. My family was headed to Acadia National Park, the only Park found on the eastern seaboard. Despite my excitement for the park and for Maine's famous lobster, I discovered something that I was not expecting to be such an integral part of Maine's culture or my summer travels.

"We discovered the people selling the blueberries weren’t farmers or gardeners, they had just gathered the blueberries from bushes they had found in the woods."

We first found this surprise on the side of the road. There was

a blueberry stand selling baskets of blueberries for an incredible price. My family stopped for some before moving on to the cottage we had booked for our stay. We asked some questions and discovered the people selling the blueberries weren’t farmers or gardeners, they had just gathered the blueberries from bushes they had found in the woods. This astonished us as they had hundreds of baskets filled with wild blueberries. The blueberries tasted phenomenal, so good that blueberries from the store or farmers market couldn’t line up. They were fresh and delightfully sweet. We would soon learn that we wouldn’t have to buy blueberries for the rest of the trip.

When we got to our cottage we found that our aunts and uncles had booked a lovely home that looked like it was out of the 1700s, but kept in excellent condition. We started planning our day trips into the park and many of them involved hikes up the mountains where the end of the Appalachians meet the great Atlantic Ocean. We were not expecting that nearly every trail we would hike would be surrounded by fields upon fields of blueberry bushes. Even better, it was the height of the blueberry season in Maine, meaning the berries would be plump, sweet, and fresh. Each hike, without fail, would devolve into a berry collecting spree. At first we were concerned that this was wrong, but the Park actually encouraged berry picking because there were so many berries that there was plenty to go around for both humans and other wildlife in the park. Our only restriction was that we couldn’t pick berries too far off the trail.

I remember one of the hikes on top of a misty mountain, foggy from the ocean’s moisture. My eldest brother, Shane, and I were delightfully picking berries to our hearts content. My other brother, Matt, became slightly frustrated because he wanted to move on and finish the hike,

but Shane and I said in unison, somehow thinking the same thing, “But Matt look at all the blueberries!

On these hikes we would eventually fill our hats, pockets, and backpacks with blueberries because of how wonderful they were. We didn’t care about the purple and blue stains they would leave behind because we wanted to grab and save as many of them as we could. The downside to our nonstop berry collecting was that we started to have too many berries to eat; but, my dad came up with an excellent idea. My dad started using the berries we gathered on our adventures to make blueberry pies, blueberry jelly, blueberry tarts, and we even gave a shot at making some homemade blueberry ice cream. These berry confections, mixed with the fantastic seafood of Maine, made me fall in love with Maine.The blueberry quickly became my favorite fruit and the blueberry bush my favorite plant. Acadia Park’s beauty was also something I miss. There will be a day I will return to Acadia once again to experience the wonders of Maine. I hope to bring my own family, meet up with my brothers who will then be the uncles, and treat our families to the blueberry fields of Maine.

Jack is a college student at CU Boulder in Colorado. He is 19 years old and grew up in Silverthorne, Colorado. Photos courtesy the author.

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By Aarju

My mom and I walk into a bright classroom, many other families chattering amongst themselves. My legs, sore from the tour, carry me to a plastic chair. The man leading the tour hands everyone a small plant. It is a dark vibrant green and has little spikes for leaves. I like the way the little tree reminds me of a miniature christmas tree, as if I was a giant. He tells us the plants are a token of appreciation and he hopes to see us again in the next school year. I walked out of the classroom content and excited to watch my new plant grow, it was the first plant I had ever received!

The next weekend, my mom and I go up to our house upstate. We take the little sprout of a tree and put it into a nice row of soil. I wake up the next morning to wet mud and a blanket of dew that covers every plant and blade of grass. The tree looked greener than ever. Little dew drops on it, like crystals from the sky.

Every weekend my mom and I go upstate to our garden, watching the little pine tree grow, until it was not so little anymore. Eventually as the years go by, week by week, we do not show up as often. The car ride was long and I got too busy. Sometimes we wouldn’t drive up for months at a time. Slowly forgetting the plant I once cherished.

Quarantine struck New York City. Hit hard. Lockdown. My mom and I drive upstate, carrying all our bags, taking our lives with us. Everyday my mom goes to the garden, digging, weeding, and planting. One morning my mom asks me to come to the garden with her. I groan and roll out of bed, as any typical teenager would when forced to get out of bed earlier than noon. Dew drops caress my bare feet as we walk to the garden. In the middle of the garden, I spotted my tree. Long and elegant tree branches filled with pine needles. Each pine needle magnified from crystalline dew drops. As I crouch next to my little tree, I remember doing this exact same thing countless times when I was younger. When life was simpler.

Through quarantine I nurtured my tree, a symbol of childlike happiness, and life before the pandemic. My tree and I started as small plantlings and we will one day grow into beautiful strong trees. Memories continuing to flow through our roots.

Aarju is fourteen years old and she loves writing!

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By Brian Gomez

My love for plants marked a new period in my life and can specifically be tracked back to when I first arrived in Miami, Florida from Colombia when I was a small child. My mother worked in a flower factory, and some days I would not see my mother as she would leave for work before I woke up and arrive home after I was already asleep. However, even if I did not see her, I knew she had come home because of the new fresh cut flowers I would find in a vase in the morning before I left for school. While she brought many types of flowers home, her favorite was the flowers of the Strelitzia reginae, known to us at the time as “Ave de Paraiso”. This evergreen perennial creates beautiful flowers whose shape resemble that of a bird. My love for other beings has expanded, but this plant will always have a special place in my life, reminding me of my mother’s bird-like free spirit.

Brian Gomez is an undergraduate student at Florida International University. He is pursuing a double major in Biology and Biochemistry.

Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

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