On May 24th weekend, I picked the first huckleberries of the season while descending the stairs to town. I was supposed to be doing hill repeats but those glossy purple berries were too juicy to resist. Now, here it is the end of July and my hands are still stained from the berries I stopped for at the bottom of the Branch 12 access to Tenquille Lake. Four hundred meters higher up, the bushes remain green with tiny nubs just forming. It should be a good year for hungry bears and pie lovers.
My raspberry bushes are almost done in the garden, though there are some ever bearers producing tasty treats for me to enjoy when I take a break from weeding.
The scratches and tears from the blackcap bushes have all healed up now, and my red currants glow warmly in the jars whenever I open the cupboard doors. Ziplocs full of berries line the freezer shelves where they will remain until some rainy day in late fall when I will fill the kitchen with the smell of summer and make more jam.
Berry picking was entertainment for us when I was a kid. Some days, it was monotonous and hot and buggy beyond belief but it offered a break in the routine for everyone. We would pile into the back of the truck after dinner and head up the Ryan or up towards Meager Mountain, then range out over the hills in search of the choicest bushes. Well, that’s what I did – I’ve always been a grazer and a roamer. The berries have to be monstrous before I patiently pick a bush clean. Mom was methodical-not one berry would remain on her bushes. My husband picks like her and therefore fills his bucket faster than I do.
Each type of picking has its rewards and punishments. Staying in one spot makes you an easy target for mosquitos and flies but you reap more fruit. Roaming the hills can be a shin whacking, face whipping, pail tipping experience but it adds the thrill of the hunt to the process.
Some days, I go out alone to gather whatever is ripe and edible and the experience of sitting on a sidehill in the middle of nowhere reminds me to enjoy simple pleasures. Occasionally a choice bush will have a log right beside it offering a back relieving seat for a handful or two. Other times, a breeze will gather enough strength to keep the bugs at bay and cool me down.
Generally, the sounds of the world around will ebb and flow with my thoughts. It’s a contemplative process, berry picking, though I seldom finish a session full of inspiration as I do after a run. Never the less, I did use my last picking time to reminisce about my mom, to plan some baking for the museum, to resolve to look up the definition of shrub, to recite a poem aloud (the dog enjoyed it) and to wonder why I so seldom see other creatures feasting on the bushes. Later, as I set aside my book and closed my eyes, berries loomed before me, the afterimage lingering as I drifted.