June 13, 2005

Getting your knees in the dirt for strawberry picking yields more than brimming pail

June offers a great treasure for those feeling disconnected in our asphalt-laden, electronicized world: berry picking. There is nothing quite like getting your knees into the dirt and picking strawberries yourself.

All begins well; you've turned picking into a family event, which your grandparents view as a nostalgic excursion and readily join. The day you select is a perfect June morning of clear blue skies and a gentle breeze. Ice cream pails swing in your hands.

Long rows of plants full of bright berries greet you. Kneeling at the first plant, the plump and fleshy strawberries, all of the most vibrant red you've ever seen, surprise you. You can't help but eat the first dozen berries picked.

But the knees soon strain as you pick in silence. The sun burns your bare arms and neck (now you understand why your grandparents wore long-sleeve shirts and hats despite the heat), and your back brims with pain.

About this time, you start appreciating that modern technology can bring berries from Mexico to anywhere on the globe any time of the year. But this is cheaper than the grocery store, you tell yourself. More important, the supermarket won't let you eat the pickings.

So you go back to work, and as the pail fills, the soreness in your back becomes oddly bearable. The sun rises higher in the sky; bluebirds fly overhead. You're thinking strawberry shortcake tonight.

The pail fills, and you turn back. You can't believe how much field you've covered, that you've been picking this long, that your fingers are so stained from berry juice.

Joining you, your grandparents break into a friendly argument over which is better, freezer jam or cooked preserves; Grandpa argues for jam's fresh taste, Grandma for preserves' low sugar content. Privately, you've got to side with your grandfather on this one.

And then you smile. Raspberries come in July.

(originally published June 13, 2004)

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