We get really good strawberries in Oregon. They might not ship as well as the California ones, but they’re not taste-free red pulp around a white cardboard heart, either. Our climate and soil are conducive to growing the very best: the Hoods, the Totems, the Quinaults, the Firecrackers. Everyone grows them. You just drop a few bare-root plants in the ground and yell hi-oh and they gallop across the bed. Take the weed-whacker to the edges a few times a season to keep the luscious goo off your driveway. All of which is good news for Dave, who loudly adores strawberries.
Naturally, I can’t grow strawberries. I can’t even grow one strawberry.
There’s a long bed thumping with raspberries; there are blueberry bushes groaning under the load. And somehow, he thinks, none of these is as delicious as the particular strawberry I cannot grow. I don’t even think he cares that much. It’s just that he can’t have it. Suddenly, a good home-grown strawberry is the most important thing in the world, and completely elusive. It’s the Holy Grail. Unicorn DNA. The literary agent who loves your manuscript and wouldn’t change a single word.
We hike the streets of Portland, where waves of strawberries crash onto the sidewalks like God’s own reproach. Dave pauses for a long look, then turns to me with the eyes of an orphaned basset hound. He needs me to feel bad. He’s punching a ticket for a free bout of teasing, later. Something along the lines of “I would think you of all people would be good at making shortcake.”
I have tried. I have had strawberry plants in the ground for twenty years. Occasionally a small, hard green fruit emerges and dies of loneliness. And I do know that you’re not supposed to plant strawberries anywhere that strawberries have grown for the previous three years. Evidently after three years, they’re exhausted. I do not know why. They never do anything.
I have a successful garden, otherwise. People assume I know
what I’m doing, but all I’m doing is pulling out the dead shit. The rest looks great. The strawberry plants don’t die. They just sit there like a growing stack of unread New Yorker magazines, projecting guilt. There isn’t much to the growing of strawberries, according to the experts. Soil pH is important. You can have all the minerals and nutrients in the world and if the soil pH is wrong, your strawberries won’t absorb them. It’s like the minerals and nutrients are facts, and the pH is the soil’s religion. Get it wrong, and the soil will deflect all reason. My strawberry plants, apparently, are sitting around quietly waiting for the second coming.
I could lime their asses, or I could go to the store and buy a pint of Hoods.
Store’s only a few blocks away.