Saturday, July 19, 2008

Berry mania

My quest for fresh berries has reached a fever pitch. Last week, we picked 20 lbs. of blueberries, sending over half of them into the freezer (thereby ensuring blueberry cobbler in December). While I love blueberries, I'm an absolute fiend for blackberries. Apparently, the rest of Columbia has the same affection for the juicy drupes, but Columbians' hording mentality is stronger than mine.

I passed table after table of blackberries at the farmer's market this morning (1 qt. for $6), knowing that as soon as I put up the morning's haul, I would head out Broadway towards a you pick blackberry farm. The owners of the farm even sent out an email declaring that 24 rows of thornless blackberries would be ready for picking this morning at 8.

Only a handful of cars were parked in front of the red clapboard barn at 10:30. Surely the folks at Pick and Pick have an email list longer than 5. "You're too late!" the owner told me as I walked into the open barn. Apparently, people started arriving this morning at 7 by the droves, waiting in line to get first pick of the blackberries. By 9:30, over 500 pounds of blackberries had been picked, sold, and sent on their way to the city.

The owner took me to his golf cart with a bucket: "If you really search, you might find a pint. There might be some on the ground, but the rest of the crop will be ready by the end of the week" (when I'm heading to the Oregon coast). Literally thousands of bright red blackberries hung off the healthy vines. I searched. I dug deep. I scrounged 2.5 pounds of blackberries this morning, a far cry from the 30 pounds I wanted.

On my way back to the city, my thoughts turned to the upcoming week's activity. I'll be in the Ozarks, returning to an area I visited in Reynolds Co. a couple of weeks ago, an area with a big open area where blackberries grew prolifically. Smaller, slightly firmer fruits are ripening throughout the Ozarks right now. I might even take an actual lunch break this week to stock up on the native variety, Rubus flagellaris, a plant that thrives in dry woodlands but proliferates along roadsides where the tree canopy is non-existent.

Collecting berries from public lands in the Ozarks is legal, but on Forest Service property, one has to attain a permit. Other public lands allow berry picking up to a gallon a day per person, for personal consumption only. (Actually, I'm not sure about Nature Conservancy property, so check with the regional office before denuding their plants.) Meanwhile, I'm cutting the top off a gallon jug this afternoon in preparation for my weekly fieldwork. One of the large "tame" blackberries (the name Ozarkers apply to thornless varieties) is equivalent to about three native blackberries. One gallon should be plenty for a while. And anyway, I can always plunk down cash at the farmer's market to satiate my annual needs.


Heather's Dad said...

Heather alerted us to your blog. I've enjoyed reading your entries (keep on writing) & admire your devotion to the flora & the lands on which they grow. I must confess that I am envious of your adoptive Ozarks. I've always wanted to live in such an environment.

To illustrate my wistfulness RE. such I am including a verse related to the issue:

A Too Brief Hermitage

Away from the din that attacks
the inner ear's immunity,
and hearing the pristine white noise
of a green-mountain woodland stream's
contagious, hypnotic blithe joy,
its eddies inducing in me
a peace far greater than Prozac's
much touted effects – it is there
that I can completely relax.

And it is there that I am led
to quiet colloquies with that
environ’s rural gods which grant
to none perceived necessities
exceeding need. When with their slight
bucolic nods, my *Volo non
is vicis ut terminus said,
my sylvan office done, I go
to face the din with lessened dread.

*I wish not this time to end

Allison Vaughn said...

Dr. Sterling, Of course, now I'm feeling really sheepish that you've read my silly little writing. You (steeped in that incredible Craftsman I loved your house. So full of books!) were such a great force in my teenage life. I still have my 1st edition Mencken book and I bet if it wasn't for your unflappable support, I never would have written a word. You're a stellar man and your children are ever so lucky to have you as a father. Thanks for reading. I hope I can attain your level on day.

heather's dad said...

Your words are much, much too kind. But humbling as well....The attribution of "stellar" suggests also that, many of the avatars we now observe in the evening sky do not really exist, at least as we may see them now.

We no longer live in the house you remember. I retired in'03, and physically escaped the din of which I wrote. Having always wanted to build a house (a desire devoid of reason) we did the next best thing. We purchased a 1947 ventage house and have been remodeling it ever since. We've learned much along the way, but unfortunately, the opportunity to "do it right" had already fled from that extant moment in time when insight arrived in our living space.

I'm curious what transpired that resulted in your being swept off your feet by the romance offered by the great outdoors. Journalism's loss appears to be the enviroment's gain. But you still can express your soul (its being renewed by the Ozarks) via freelance submissions to various publishers &/or syndicates. One of our shared heros did - Mark Twain. And his is now a household name.

Think about that, especially the soul expression part; for, while it is a self-enriching enterprise, it also can enrich the lives of others. And can inform as well.

Allison Vaughn said...

But, really, you're brilliant. Thanks for the enormous, much undeserved compliment. I love writing but really hated the direction journalism went in the late 1990s. Real news never gets covered these days unless it's in England (or in the New Yorker, which is getting to be a fluffy rag I still subscribe to for the cartoons and Sempe drawings). It's sad when most Americans learn their news from a satirical journal like The Daily Show, while the rest of the media show clips of long-dead Jon-Benet Ramsey in perpetuity. I imagine Mark Twain, Hemingway, and Faulkner are quite literally twisting in their respective graves.

Ted C. MacRae said...

Reading the comments of heather's dad, and surmising for him a significant inspirational role in your development as a writer, I feel I have gained at least some small insight into the source of your great talent. Heed the words of this wise, wise man.