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Blueberries are Finite, Weeds Are Infinite

I’m on row 17, and today, as I weed under the blueberries, I wonder what word I’d use to describe the job. “Hopeless,” comes to mind.

I am crawling on my hands and knees from bush to bush. Why stand up? Hoisting myself to full verticality takes more energy. I might as well stay low, where my work is. Sometimes I lie flat on my stomach so I can reach underneath the lowest branches, carefully avoiding the berry clusters resting on the ground. Other times, bending like a plumber wedging his or her body into the tightest space beneath the smallest sink, I reach into the center of the berry bush to pluck weed sprouts the size of peas. Chips of wood mulch dig into my knees.

Since I bring neither iPod nor radio into the field, I am where I am. I hear wind. I hear crows. I hear the roots I yank, ripping from the soil. Randomly, I remember a conversation I’d had with a professor of math when I was not long out of college. He’d been described to me as a “genius.” I mentioned to him my longstanding troubles with math, starting with my inability to fathom multiplication. I could still recall my third-grade teacher sticking rows of pink ducks onto a green felt board to explain the multiplication tables, but I retained nothing from the class beyond the memory of my befuddlement regarding the relationship between nine ducks and three times three.

The professor told me he believed that anyone could understand even the most complicated of mathematical concepts. As he saw it, the issue was that too many math teachers don’t understand what they’re trying to teach. “Multiplication and division are actually very difficult,” he said.

“So, tell me a difficult math concept and help me understand it,” I suggested. Without hesitation, he explained that there are two kinds of infinities. One infinity is bounded. Between 1 and 2 lie an infinite number of fractions. That infinity is in a way finite. The other infinity is infinite because it is without an end point. There are an infinite number of whole numbers beyond 1, for example.

I can know with my knees and fingers and back both a finite and an infinite infinity in our blueberry field, I suddenly feel. No matter how many weeds I pull under a given blueberry bush, more will grow tomorrow. I can’t ever rout out every root, and the wind will always blow in more seeds. As I yank the vetch and struggle with the buckthorn seedlings, I am nose to nose with an infinite infinity.

I am also intimately pressed against a finite infinity. On any given day, the number of weeds in our field is countable, I grant you. With enough help, we could inventory all of them. But as far as I can tell — reality on the ground — there are an infinite number of weeds between the beginning of row one and the end of row 39. Ask my knees.

You might think I’m complaining or whining, but I’m not. When I’ve liberated a blueberry plant from grass that is thigh high and pulled out the fragile sprouts of buckthorn that, if left untended, would within a season stretch to the height of a tiny tree, I am exultant. For one afternoon, the berry bush is free. Sun shines unimpeded from its crown to its base, and the ground around it is tidy.

Because a job is both infinitely infinite and finitely infinite is it hopeless? Yes. But on the other hand, no. Some jobs have to be done, even when you know with every bone in your body that you can’t finish them. And a hopeless job doesn’t necessarily have to make one feel hopeless.

In my better moments, my knees on soft grass and my eyes resting on a freshly weeded blueberry bush — one planted by my parents 30 years ago and still bearing fruit, year in and year out, yielding its berries unconditionally to anyone who reaches for them — all is right with the world. Even with my mother dead. Even with my father gone. Even with my husband and me looking towards 70 and my discovery the other day of the eight shocking lines of wrinkles just above each of my knees.

The finite is infinite.

Amen.

This essay was written during this summer’s blueberry season. Kesaya E. Noda and her husband Christopher Dye farm two acres of blueberries and four acres of Christmas trees at Noda Farm in Meriden. She is a writer and a personal historian.

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