Berry Picking in the Valley
If I could sum up this summer so far in one word it would be “drought”, the water levels in the river are down, and the bush is a tinder box. After a nice and moist spring this was the last thing I expected (thank you climate change). We had a damp warm spring, but the heat and dry conditions that followed, coupled with our local sandy soil, turned out to be berry heaven.
above: saskatoon berries, wild blueberries, and pin cherries
below: thimbleberry (rubus parviflorus)
Last year after a record breaking hot and early spring and all of the berry and fruit trees had buds. To emphasize, they had buds. A late frost came sweeping in one night like a grim reaper, destroying all the flower and leaf buds, and nearly all the early vegetable gardens. Even those who were able to put cloches or shelter on their gardens had a hard time.
below: wild strawberry and rose petal liqueur
Likewise wildlife here in the Ottawa Valley also had a hard time. My old apartment in Downtown Killaloe had a bear, who, due to the lack of fruiting crops, took up residence in the back yard. He settled for compost, and whatever other sad remainders ended up unattended in people's yards through the entire town. It’s bizarre to think that this bear could have possibly starved if not for our human intrusion into his area. But I digress...
below: pin cherry (prunus pensylvanica)
This year no bear sightings in the town, and berries and cherries, just about dripping off their branches. The resplendent dark blues, brilliant reds, and a multitude of colours between, accent the forest in a most striking fashion. Jewels of sweet nectar glistening warmly in the summer sun, beckoning you closer.
below: prickly wild gooseberries, ripening elderberry, and jellies at market
Having caught your attention, you start to realize that most of the branches and sometimes the berries themselves are covered with a most insidious form of defence: spikes. Ranging from tiny barbs and hairs to veritable lances, these will poke, scratch, catch, and otherwise make life miserable. To pick a bushel of wild blueberries can take a day, in the bugs, and the sun, and the pokey little twiggy bushes. It is the price that the land demands, in return for her bounty. It takes the blood, sweat, and sometimes very sanity of the picker to bring home this bounty.
Is it worth it? Well...
below: wild blueberries and canned goods made from them
I would answer with another question. What is it worth to gather and distill the very essence and the blending of both earth and sun? How much is a food, full of sugars, water, and nutrients, in a tiny perfect package worth? I myself who am not overly fond of berries from the store, will gladly brave the thickets, and brambles, and let my sweat fall to mother earth for the simple satisfaction of fresh wild berries and all the things I can make with them. I would invite you to imagine hunting a treasure, where each piece is a glorious experience for your taste buds.
above: white currant jam and sumac berry lemonade