Picking berries that grow wild has obvious pleasures–and, these days, some hazards. I’ll mention the hazards and then side with the pleasures for the rest of this blog.
The first and most obvious hazard to people in the northeast is disease-bearing ticks. This is something new. When I was a child we didn’t have in the woods ticks that worried us.
Another hazard could be bears and other wild creatures that browse berry patches or even live in them. In Connecticut we have a surging population of bears, enough of a problem to prompt us to stop feeding birds in our backyards during bear season.
Once when our family hiked a mountain trail northwest of Large George in New York, we found a large blueberry patch and saw on the ground lots of bear scat. I’m sure that when we left they came back to finish their long summer’s day meal. Those were shy bears and presented no threat.
Our berry patch is at the edge of a stretch of woods beside a parking lot. The raspberries are almost done and the black raspberries are at their peak. I limit myself to half a cup each day, letting others enjoy the patch.
Pictured here are black raspberries, smaller and rounder than blackberries. If you mistake the red ones for raspberries you’ll find they don’t pull off easily as berries do when they are ripe.
Picking berries reminds me of growing up on our farm. We went in pairs or as a family down into the woods to our favorite berry patches carrying half-gallon buckets with slender ropes through the bails and around our necks. That left both hands free for picking. We wore light shirts but often long-sleeved to keep the canes with their thorns from snagging our skin. We allowed ourselves to eat some at first, but after a reasonable snack, we devoted our efforts to bringing home buckets full of raspberries to Mom to put up for the winter, saving apart some to put on our morning cereal. We picked blueberries for eating and for pies and for preserving to make Thanksgiving pies.
When my boys were little I loved to take them picking berries. They only had small tin cups and their tummies to fill and it was fine when they ate all they picked. It was a meal on blueberry hill. When we got home we read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky.
There is something elemental about eating berries in the patch, reaching for a juicy one and popping it onto the tongue, pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth to squeeze out the juices. I feel I can remember doing the same many eons ago when the only way to get berries was to go pick them, no money, no stores. I like the way our little patch gives me something to eat for my own labor in that time-honored tradition we call gathering. Berries have not changed. And neither have we.