It’s the perfect morning to pick wild blueberries: just slightly chilly but not cold; with a lovely breeze which keeps the mosquitoes and midges at bay. The green smell of nearby ferns and the clean smell of rich, loamy earth is intoxicating. I take in deep breaths as I close my eyes in contented gratitude. The sun comes and goes from behind big, fluffy white clouds and the only thing to break the perfect silence is the sound of crickets and the occasional truck lumbering by on the road nearby. Oh, yes, and the sweet, piping voices of the children, aged 2 and 4, as they contentedly pick and munch on blueberries, and chatter away with my lovely and gregarious friend, maybe twenty-five metres away.
“Don’t pick the white ones or the red ones,” I hear her telling them. “Those ones aren’t ready to eat yet.” I smile to myself as I pick silently nearby, my thumb gently nudging each huge bunch of tiny purple berries off the stalk and into my waiting, open palm. Never have I seen wild berries in such profusion. I have been following behind my friend and the children but it seems like they haven’t even touched the patches I am discovering in their footsteps.
I find myself thinking of my mother; wishing she were well enough to be here with me. She would be in her glory at the sight of such abundance. How many times did I pick wild berries with her as a child, I wonder? I realize it’s been twenty years since the last time I went blueberry picking (and then, it was my own children’s sweet, piping voices I was listening to as my Mom passed on her extensive knowledge while they picked and ate until their bellies could hold no more). In the distance, I hear my friend telling the children not to eat the berries that look a lot like blueberries (“See how the leaves look different on this plant? These berries will make you sick if you eat them.”). She points out other berries that are edible and I smile again as I hear them excitedly doing a taste test, comparing the sweetness of one berry; the tartness of another.
And once again, I am filled with love for my knowledgeable mother, who taught me all these things many years ago now. And she taught me well: my hands move with deft, gentle sureness (a heavy hand will crush the berries and quickly turn them to mush). Ruefully, I realise that at least some things have changed since the last time I went berry picking: my back no longer forgives me for standing, bent at the waist as I fill my little container. And my knees no longer tolerate squatting for more than a minute or two. I easily adapt, though, carefully sitting on the rare patch of bare ground I can find (the berries are that plentiful) so as not to ruin my clothes with berry stains. Sitting in one spot for long minutes at a time, I pick everything my hands can reach before moving on.
The children scamper back and forth between my friend to their mother, who is quietly and efficiently picking berries a distance back from the patch where I have ensconced myself. They have only met me today so it takes them awhile to shyly approach me, but eventually, they do. The two-year old generously shares a few mushy berries with me from a grubby little palm (which I solemnly eat and thank her for, declaring them ‘the best berries ever’). And I am grateful for that moment, too, because I often ache, now, for the days when I got to experience the innocent wonder of my own little ones.
Throughout the morning, I am fascinated by how different my friend’s technique is from my own (which I suspect, I also learned from my mother). A grandmother many times over with many years experience under her belt, she places her container under each berry bush and, both hands deftly working in an efficient blur, indiscriminately fills her bucket with ripe berries, non-ripe berries, leaves, tiny twigs and the occasional insect. She will sort them later, she explains, in part by using an ingenious system she has devised that involves standing in front of a fan while pouring the berries from one container to another, so that much of the lighter debris blows away before the berries reach the second bowl (separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak).
I, on the other hand, pick slowly; carefully; methodically; so that when I get home, I will have very little cleaning and sorting to do. This is mostly due to laziness on my part; I never enjoy the post-cleaning part so I do my best to ensure I won’t have to do very much when I get home. As a result, though, my friend, and the two other women who have come with us easily gather three times more berries than I do. It doesn’t matter a bit, though. We are not in competition. We are all clearly thrilled with our ‘take’. And we are all very pleased for one another.
I am invited to a small dinner gathering that evening and because I almost missed the invitation, it’s too late for me to purchase a proper gift for the host. Not wanting to come empty-handed, I quickly transfer some of the berries I picked, into a container, to hand over to the host when I arrive. When I tell him I picked them myself, that very morning, his eyes light up. “Wild blueberries?!” he asks, clearly delighted. He is about my age, and I know – from his reaction – that he, too remembers picking real, wild berries as a child: delicious, wonderfully ripe and free for the taking.
I will try to freeze some of the berries I picked; maybe even figure out how to make jam (my Mom, whose short-term memory is failing, might still remember the way of it, if I ask) but I suspect we will eat most of them. They’re wonderful on ice-cream, or just all by themselves, in great, generous, messy handfuls.
Next year, I plan to bring a bigger bucket. And a picnic lunch. Maybe I can talk my friend into bringing her grandchildren.
If she’ll let me, and I know she will, it would be wonderful to teach them some of the things I know…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com