The first time I read Homer’s The Odyssey, I was plagued by a confusing phrase. He referred to the waters around Ithaka as “…the wine-dark sea.” Being only 16, and never having drunk any wine, I couldn’t figure out what Homer was trying to make me see. Was it just supposed to sound funny and catch my ear? Certainly, the phrase burrowed in. My mind repeated it for days. Language has a way of haunting me — certain names need to be repeated. Some phrases will stay in my brain as long as that time I was stuck in the middle of It’s a Small World at Disneyland, all the animitronic figures dancing spasmodically without sound for 45 minutes. “Wine-dark sea” seemed to threaten to stick in there, bobbing on the waves without reaching shore.
And then, in a moment, I thought of my favorite afternoon snack. Bing cherries. The inside of perfectly ripe Bing cherries have a rich red color akin to blood, dark as Merlot and sucking to the pit. Their sweetness is belied by the tapestry color, the royalty and ominousness of red-leaning-toward-maroon-purple, the juice dripping so dark that my fingers stayed stained all day. If anything is wine-dark, it is the inside of cherries.
Suddenly, I saw why my English teachers always nattered on about similes and metaphors, about figurative language. It all seemed like textbook talk before, the hoops we had to jump through to complete our class and achieve a good grade. With this metaphor of Homer’s, swirling through my head for days, I felt what writers can do. I saw myself in this sensual experience and understood the longing Odysseus felt for home.
After all, that longing that lingers like a lump in the throat is just how I feel, waiting for cherries to come into season.
We had a long winter in Seattle, late snows, cold spots, and chilly evenings. Even today, when the light is leaning toward summer, the wind is blowing against the rattling windows. We turned the heater back on last night. Better that than huddle against the blankets as though we are on the frozen tundra. It just isn’t summer. And in some moments of the day, I think every citizen in Seattle starts to worry that we will never see the sun again.
This hasn’t been good for cherry season.
Normally, by now, the farmers’ markets stands are bursting with Bings and Rainiers. Last week, as I wrote in my last post, I found the first batch of Yakima-grown cherries at Pike Place Market. $3.99 a pound. It turns out they really weren’t that sweet, like the distant memory of cherries, how they taste in the mind in March. But still, I savored them. I even loved the pits and stems so much I took a photo.
While I am waiting for the cherries to ripen, I have been savoring the pickled sour cherries my friend Matthew made for me. When I read his post about sour cherries on Gourmet.com, my heart skipped and fluttered. I must have some, I thought, knowing it might be awhile. But Matthew is so damned cool that he pickled up a batch in time for my latest visit with him and Iris. (Okay, I was helping re-structure his book manuscript for him, but still. I think I got the better end of the deal.)
As soon as I reached home, I draped some sour cherries (pickled with hibiscus flowers, balsamic vinegar, and cinnamon) on two scoops of lemon custard ice cream. Hot damn, I thought. I’m finally a pregnant woman, eating ice cream and pickles.
Tomorrow, I think I’ll make a sour cherry-rhubarb cobbler. There are worse ways to spend cloudy days.
Still, I’m waiting for the day that Bing cherries (and Rainiers) overflow the tables of my favorite farmers. I want to eat them, one by one, letting the dark juices dribble down my chin. Maybe by the time Little Bean is born, I’ll be able to taste that wine-dark sea. This has certainly felt like an odyssey, all these months of pregnancy. Soon, we will all be home.
And you? How do you like to eat cherries?