After 4 weeks without rain, our raspberries shriveled up on the brambles. But I vaguely hoped that the wineberries might survive. Wine berries? I had never seen or heard of them before about five years ago. They look like juicy red raspberries in a fuzzy husk that opens when they’re ripe. Thanks to the internet, we could find out what these odd berries were and whether they were edible berries, “bird berries” or if, upon eating them, we would experience an excruciating demise. We certainly didn’t plant them. The birds must have sown them as the meadow is full of not only black raspberries not planted by human hands but also these never before seen wineberries. And they are really good. Really, Really, Good! Sweet. Juicy. Not as seedy as other berries. And sooooo delicate that one can only pick them oneself – I doubt that even Farmers Markets could carry them. One of the luxuries of farm living!
Picking bramble berries requires one to wear clothing that completely covers the body no matter what the temperature might be. Closed shoes and socks. Jeans. Long sleeved shirts. And a bandana to keep loose hair from being grasped by thorny twigs. Mind you, I don’t wear gloves and therefore end up with plenty of scratches on my hands. But gloves are not conducive to gently picking hands full of delicate tenderness. Happily, wineberries don’t seem to be as vicious as the other berries we pick. But they resemble berries covered with thin layer of honey. Really sticky! And we are lucky here in PA with a noticeable lack of mosquitoes even in the meadow woods. In IL, I had to use the extra strong woods and camping brand of mosquito repellent in order to pick berries. And reapply every half hour. Annoying. But not here. I heard a few mosquitoes but managed to shoo them away without being attacked and carried away.
I spent two lovely solitary hours harvesting eight quarts of sweet berries in the meadow sauna.
Well, the temperature is in the nineties again. Or still. I think this is the fifth “heat wave” of the summer with two days of high eighties to “break” the heat each week. I’m loving it. But I thought about the joys of cool showers unavailable to our predecessors even fifty years ago. And I thought of many other things. And it occurred to me that my urban friends who think we live a pioneer existence might find such activities monotonous. Far from it! Such a wonderful time for ruminating. Or singing. Or storytelling. So, I now post a selection of my berry picking meditations for the interested and/or the unwary!
On Mosquitoes. What purpose do mosquitoes fulfill? What is their niche in the evolutionary chain of life? Is life simply “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”? violent and bloody? What purpose other than malaria and other diseases? OR on the other hand, is the mosquito a result of the Fall? A failure of insects to live out their God-given telos? Is there grace for mosquitoes?
On Silence. People speak of the silence of the country. Living here, we listen to the noises of the farm: birds chirping loudly and constantly; hens in hysterics for who knows what reason; roosters defending their cackling harem; dogs announcing farm visitors or the movement of other animals. Song birds singing; locusts and mosquitoes, flies and bees buzzing; wind blowing through the leaves and pine needles; twigs crackling with no visible cause — we don’t have bears here. Do we? We aren’t that far from the mountain. Cats don’t make noise walking through the meadow. Unless they’re large cats. Do we have mountain cats here? Some say so. Foxes for sure since they kept taking our chickens and I think I saw a coyote on our road today. Snakes? We rarely see them but certainly have them.
Spiders are quiet. At least, they make no noise that I can hear. Shelob is probably not a quiet spider but then, what indeed is Shelob? Spiders contribute to the joys of berry picking. And the conversation of grandkids when we pick together. Screams! There’s a spider! Oh, that’s just a nice Daddy Long-legger – he won’t hurt you. But he’s REALLY BIG – I don’t LIKE spiders. But even for confident grandmothers, spiders cause thoughtfulness. Or the webs do. Huh! I didn’t see that web. Oh, there’s a web, where’s the spider? What kind of spider is it? a nice Daddy Long-legger or a tricky harvest spider? Hmm. Never seen that little chartreuse one before. So, self, shall I go around this web or just barge right through? How many berries are on the other side? Yes, this time it is worth whacking one web to pick a quart of berries.
On Children. Children are less of an expense and more of an asset to the farming family. Farm clothes are different than “going somewhere” clothes that will eventually turn into “staying at home” clothes. Stains are not a problem since very little on the farm does not cause a stain. And, therefore, going somewhere clothes are NOT worn outside the house on the farm. Friends who come must bring play clothes that can endure stains and rips and tears. As long as one has a couple outfits to “go somewhere,” other clothes just need to cover the essential (depending on the project) parts of the body.
Children are capable of an amazing amount of work from an early age. Berry picking is fun, entertaining, delicious, useful, memorable, character building, and productive. Three year olds can pick berries. Really! I heard a story this year that my grandparents discovered their son’s color-blindness when he kept picking unripe berries. Since the berries went to market, he was given other jobs that didn’t require seeing color. Three year olds pick a lot of berries but a whole afternoon of picking may only produce a single layer in the bottom of the pail — besides the full tummy. Fresh organic snacks, seconds from the source. Five year olds can pick a half a berry basket while words and questions pour out of their mouths non-stop. (Help! I’m talking and I can’t stop!) They can even talk with their mouths full of berries. What kind of spider is this? Is this berry good to eat or just for the birds? What kind of grasshopper/bird/tree is that? Don’t pick up the deer poop – those are not good eating berries. Spiders build webs to catch pests and eat them. Stop pesting your sister!
On Memories. Picking berries with the children creates memories that expand to fill a lifetime. Daughters-in-law state that their husbands insist “we did this every year.” Yea, not so much. We did this a few times; we did that only once! But the memory is so vivid that it saturates their entire childhood. Not every year produces every thing. Some years are good for berries; some are too dry, too wet, too cold, too hot. Some years produce cherries, some do not. This year gave a bumper crop of apricots – that happens about once every five years.
On Luxuries. Ordinary farm life produces luxuries one cannot buy. Hearing and smelling the rain before one feels it. Eating berries plucked seconds ago. Eating berries too delicate to transport. Gorging on berries. Gorging on anything in season. Eating cantalopes by the bushel. Tossing out the ones not sweet enough. Sweet corn in the pot within five minutes from the stalk. Picking tomatoes and peppers for supper — at five o’clock. Composting produce of the quality one sees for sale in town. Bouquets of roses in every room of the house. Rooms fanned with the fragrance of outdoor lilies. Or lilacs. Perfume of wild honeysuckle that produces berries for birds not us. Watching a tiny bird build a nest.
Remembering that a warm shower is a luxury that grandparents did not enjoy. Indoor plumbing can still be a luxury. Knowing that without electricity, we can still use an old outhouse, butcher our own meat, pick berries and dig fresh potatoes. And spin yarn and weave cloth. Someone needs to buy some sheep soon.