Friday, August 11, 2006

Julie Wields the Berry Picker

Picking wild blueberries
When Julie and Richard were four and six, I finished my Montessori training and we moved from California to Fairbanks. One of the wonderful things about the Alaskan Interior is the variety of incredible berries that grow wild and the amount of wilderness where they grow. There are raspberries and strawberries and salmon berries and smoke berries and high bush cranberries and lingon berries and, among the most plentiful and the most delicious, blueberries. Wild blueberries do not taste anything like farmed berries. They are much sweeter and fuller flavored.

Every weekend, and in the long, light Alaskan evenings after work, I took Julie and Richard picking throughout the summer. Often other adults, like my sister in law Janey or our neighbor Gloria, would go with us along with their children. Often we would go alone. We would take a picnic lunch and pick all day, taking home buckets of berries and I then made jam and syrup and wine and compote. Sometimes I would heat some with a little sugar and we would eat them hot over ice cream or make milk shakes from them. However, the berries I took home were the ones that Richard and I picked. The ones that Julie picked mostly ended up, not in the bucket, but in Julie.

I had two metal berry pickers, which Richard and I used. A good berry picker can increase your yield many fold, allowing the scooping of a fistful at at time. Julie became convinced that the reason that Richard and I filled our buckets and she didn't fill hers was that we had the pickers. She was, of course, partially right. Partially, I worked without much stopping and Richard almost never stopped, while Julie, as a typical five year old, stopped and examined the world, sat on the ground and picked berries one by one and ate them with slow deliberation, and in general spent her time just as she should.

But, she wanted to bring in two or three full buckets, like her brother and I did, and she insisted that if she were allowed to use the picker, she could. So, one day when it was just the three of us, I decided to let her try it. We had walked in to a patch about half a mile from the road, our car, and any other people. I explained to Julie that I would show her how to use the picker and she could have it as long as she wanted. At which point she grabbed it out of my hand, swung back and then forward, hit me in the forehead and knocked me out cold.

Think about poor Richard. Seven years old, out in the middle of the woods with an unconscious mother and a suddenly hysterical sister. Luckily I wasn't out more than a couple of minutes. When I came to, Richard was valiantly pulling me by the feet towards the road and Julie was trailing behind with the berry pickers and buckets crying about how she didn't mean it, was Mom going to die, who would they live with?

When I sat up, she very humbly handed me the berry picker without being told. She never asked to use it again, and when I offered it to her a few weeks later, she quietly waited for instruction before she wielded it. And she never, never swung it near another person.


jay lassiter said...

well i know not to send Julie a berry picker for Christmas. Do you think she still suffers from that imcident? it sounds pretty scarey as well as farsical.

What is in season now, Granny? here in NJ i am up to my tits in tomatoes and cukes from my garden. I canned 4 pints of toms yesterday -- a first for me-- and have made vat after vat of cold cuke soup. I assume you're a good canner too? it sure is a cool skill to master which is why i am so pleased my first foray was successful.

granted, my kitchen looked like a crime scene afterwards, but at least i got the seals to pop down.

J said...

I'm sorry mom! Oh, I'm laughing right now. :) I always thought those berry pickers were for cranberries, not blueberries...and I don't even remember clocking you in the forehead...I guess because I was only 5 at the time.

Maya's Granny said...

Jay, Right now my freind Christina is picking huckleberries, both reds and blues. Some raspberries are left and lots of salmon berries and smoke berries, which are used with other berries for nutrition and to extend them.

I used to can extensively, and getting the seals to pop down is the key, alright.

Julie, pickers are for cranberries and lingon berries, as well as blueberries. Don't work with raspberries, strawberries, or other fragile berries. You, by the way, are long ago forgiven, and I think it is very funny, myself. I'm not sure how Richard feels about it.

Gina said...

I can't imagine how Richard must have felt! He was only seven, and I am impressed at his thinking to try and pull you to the road!

I think it's a good thing Julie doesn't remember, though!

Cherry said...

Ohh, How I love it when you share stories about Richard and Julie.

Now Julie, remember its not nice to clock your mother in the head. hehe

Maya's Granny said...

Yes, Julie, remember that it's not nice to clock your mother on the head!

Cherry, that is so funny.

laluna said...

oh dear you must have had a terrible headache and a large knot where you were hit. What a wonderful treat to have all those berries. When we were kids we would walk the railroad tracks towards Alamo which is now the Iron Horse Trail and there would be wild blackberry bushes and we would have a feast. It was wonderful

Maya's Granny said...


I have never lived where there were wild blackberries, that I knew of, and I wish I had because they are my absolute favorites.

Cherry said...

Oh... the next time you schedule a visit to see J, you must come during blackberry season. We'll take you. There are still bushes in hidden and not so hidden places. (La Luna, there is a great spot in Martinez).

Also, if you ever get a chance to visit Victoria, BC during Blackberry season, they are everywhere! (my brother lives there. Mmm Mmm)