It is a beautiful sunny day, early in the summer. A few days ago, I woke up at 5:00 a.m., picked up a friend, and drove to Somerville to harvest strawberries.

I have been picking my own organic strawberries at Sand Hill Farm since 1989. I remember what year it was, because I was pregnant with Sam, and Joy was at PeoplePlace Cooperative Preschool. We’d been in Maine for a bit more than a year.

The habit of harvesting berries began a few years before that, at the instigation of a friend named Lucinda when we both lived in Billerica, Mass. She was about 10 months ahead of me on the journey of procreation, and taught me a great deal about being pregnant, birthing and raising small children, helping a husband operate a small business. We ran errands together, one of us waiting in the car with the kids while the other shopped, and went to festivals where we camped out while those same husbands stayed home and kept the rest of the family going without us.

A year later, when the fruit was coming in, I found a Gibson chest freezer for $50 and started to prepare food ahead for the winter when my husband’s work slowed down.

We lived in an apartment then, but when we moved to Maine we bought a house. My husband had inherited enough for a small down payment and with that, and a bank that still wrote mortgages for non-conforming properties and self-employed workers, we offered $31,000 for a one bedroom frame house. There was a well that hadn’t yet been connected to anything, and an attached privy that stank to high heaven.

My husband and uncle came up to Warren and added about 250 square feet of kitchen and bathroom. We found a deep, claw-footed cast iron tub and an Russo Glass-View woodstove in Uncle Henry’s. Over the years, we added sleeping space in the low attic, an outer mudroom, a half bath, and a bedroom off the back of the first addition. It was a funky place but a good one, a home for our family for 20 years.

The chest freezer was in the inner mudroom with the washer and dryer, the water heater and the canning jars. That first fall, I bought a half-dozen chickens from Mrs. Webb, down the road, and put them away for winter,

One of Joy’s teachers at PeoplePlace told me about Sand Hill Farm, and we went there together, me with Joy and she with her own first child. I picked about 20 quarts that first season. Over time, my yield fluctuated with conditions, as does all agriculture. The most I harvested was 36 quarts, an enormous bounty that went into cakes and ice cream, liqueur and fruit leather and syrup for waffles, enough to give as holiday gifts and to last until it was time to pick again.

When we moved to the big grown-up house in Rockland, the freezer went into the cellar where it stayed, storing meat and fruit and bread for our enjoyment, and prepared food for the parties we loved to host, until I left for school and rented the house out in 2014. While I was away, I lived in dormitory rooms and the freezer died, my marriage ended, and life changed as it often does.

I lived in the Rockland house just long enough to throw a couple of great parties, pack my belongings, and downsize.

In 2020 I began living in smaller spaces again. My current home is a 664-square-foot subsidized apartment that, fortunately for my lifestyle, has space in the living room for a fold-out futon for guests, and includes a very large storage closet ample enough for what remains of the possessions I still cannot part with, including a small chest freezer.

Friday I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and drove to Somerville. The friend who went with me is my former husband — we still enjoy doing things together, and living our own separate lives doesn’t preclude a road trip, now and then.

For the last couple of years, I watched my hopes for a house drift away on the winds of late capitalist economic theory and humanity’s fear of the tiny things whose job is to keep us in check, the ticks and caterpillars and microbes that, like us, only want to be fruitful and multiply.

I am coming to grips with the idea I will never again step out my door and into my own garden, that the small orchard I imagined while looking a houses is not to be.

After days of rain and chill, Friday’s picking filled about eight baskets and on Saturday and Sunday I hulled five quarts of berries. I left one quart at the home of a dear friend, and last night I pulled out the dehydrator. This morning, I woke to the smell of a little more than two precious ounces of summer sweetness, dried morsels that, when winter winds buffet my third-floor windows, can bring me back to today’s warm sunshine.

I still think about a house, a garden, and an orchard, even as the insanity of human greed and disease-engendered panic cause the yield from the sale of that big home in Rockland to dwindle to the value of half a ranch house.

When a real estate buyer and seller make their final exchanges, it is called a closing. I have learned the satisfaction of receiving a big check is not the same as being handed the keys to a new home and knowing it is your own, to change and modify and make some of your own rules for living. That sort of closure fades in the rear view mirror of my new reality.

But I still have my freezer and my dehydrator and, after an afternoon of shifting and consolidating, I find there is space to store 36 berry baskets until next year, just in case the picking is good.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.