Patience, persistence and other life lessons learned picking berries

If you want to teach kids how to be observant, patient, persistent, quiet, and successful in the outdoors – or anywhere else – take them berry picking.

This is a glorious time of summer in Froggy Bottom. My expanses of scattered patches of wild black raspberries are ripening so fast I cannot keep up, and on a recent weeklong family campout-reunion here, I enlisted the grandkids, ages 6 through 12, for a picking session. I barely needed to ask.

I scattered the berry-picking troop strategically, so the young pickers wouldn’t be competing for and conflicted over the same morsels. My sons Andy and Aaron, respective dads of the brood, helped oversee the mission. Each kid got a cup and Grandpa Frogs was the field general, dressed in his old Army shirt, torn green jeans, boots, and canvas hat made from a discarded truck tarp down in the Brazilian Amazon.

I told the kids to look, look, look – really look, and see. Be observant. Their diminutive stature put them that much closer to the ground, which greatly reduced the need for sore-back bending for the old man. They learned that you accumulate a pint of berries just like you build an old brick skyscraper – one berry or one brick at a time. Each one seems so little, but in time, a pint basket fills and a skyscraper touches the clouds. Patience.

I told the kids to pick only the dark ones that come off the canes easily – they are the ripe ones. Yep, it was hot and sweaty – we would find something nice and cool to drink later, a reward for hard work well done. Yes, there were a few mosquitoes, but the repellent helped. Don’t worry about the many daddy longlegs. These gangly gantry-legged creatures (not spiders, but related) won’t harm, and are guardians of the berries. They eat lots of “bugs” that come in to pick their own. And yep, you are going to get a scratch or two from the tiny raspberry thorns. It’s no big deal (it’s only a big deal when an adult allows it to become a big deal; shake it off, it’s just a scratch). Just pick slowly, carefully, deftly. Persistence.

It is surprising how quiet it gets with a crew of little kids when they are picking. They become so absorbed in their task that they forget to make the usual noise that kids make. Well, they do get excited about picking and say so with occasional outbursts of enthusiasm, but the level is subdued compared to kicking soccer balls around the side yard or fighting over whose turn it is to bat.

In no time our little crew had three heavy pints of luscious black raspberries. The compact little berries pack a pint container densely and weigh about two pounds. Actually the kids probably picked about six pints, for my observations showed that they were eating about one berry for every one dropped in their cups. Success, feedback. Three pints to store in the freezer is my daily limit.

When I pick alone, picking three pints is enough time in the heat in heavy clothes, which I wear for protection to allow deeper access into thorny patches off our system of trails, which is mowed and maintained by son Andy and son-in-law Mike Schena when they visit (more help for the old man). Some picked berries end up on ice cream or yogurt or cereal and such. Most are stored in the freezer for Andy, who makes a marvelous wild black raspberry jam – a treasure for anyone lucky enough to be gifted with a small jar.

I usually pick about four gallons of berries, 32 pints, and quit. I could pick much more. But I like to abide by the lessons remembered from our Native American cultures, which respected the land in ways we have ignored or forgotten. They always remembered it was not just about them, to respect the rest of creation and share the bounty with the rest of nature – the insects, the birds, the raccoons, skunks, opossums and other animals. The berry seeds that are scarified, passed through the guts of animals, represent future raspberry canes. That is another thing that berry picking can teach kids – and adults.

In a month or so, the blackberry patches will be ready. Not nearly as lush and expansive as my little black raspberry patches, but I love their luscious tang as well and probably will reach for that old Army shirt and canvas hat and go picking again. It is a great way to spend a summer afternoon.

Categories: Ohio – Steve Pollick

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