Berry-picking a rite of passage
The last quart of wild black raspberries for the summer just went into the freezer, the two-week-plus picking season dwindling to an end, and I could not help reflecting on how many parallels can be drawn between the picking and ethical deer hunting.
I did, in fact, point out the similarities and the attendant lessons to my two older grandsons, Michael, 12, and Patrick, 10, who joined me in the peak of picking while on a visit from North Carolina with their dad, my elder son, Andy. Michael experienced his first family deer hunt, a tradition in southeast Ohio, last gun season. He and Patrick both will join the clan this fall.
Wild black raspberries come on in the last few days of June, and I closely monitor the progress with daily hikes among the scattered patches in my creekbottom. They are tiny wild berries, but produce the tangiest, most delicious jam (thanks to son, Andy) that ever graced a piece of buttered homemade bread.
As we picked, I instructed Michael and Patrick about the deer-hunting parallels … it is good to train young hunters in understanding the totality of whom they are as deer hunters and what it is that they are really about. It is not just about jerking a trigger and mugging the camera with a “trophy.” It is a way of living, acting, moving, thinking, seeing.
And so, I told the boys, you learn to endure weather extremes – hot, sweat-dripping humidity while picking, cold sometimes wet and/or hands-freezing cold while hunting. You learn to endure physical hardships – scratches and pesky mosquitoes (thank goodness for Deep Woods OFF) while picking, sore muscles, and inevitable bumps and bruises and frostbite from the hunt.
You learn patience … Oh those berries are small. A quart basket gets filled one tiny black berry at a time, like a skyscraper built one brick at a time. Just as you must learn self-restraint and patience, waiting on the deer. You learn to be observant. The little fruit-treasures often hang just out of sight, so you learn to look, really look, from different angles. And there … you would have missed some pickings had you not bent and shifted your gaze, changed the angle, really observed. Same with the hunt: How often, as an experienced hunter, have you seemed to have “felt” the deer approach … the encounter tipped off by a subtle sound, or a flick of an ear or tail?
Too, you learn to be quiet, as quiet as you can, immersed in the thickets and woods, city-dulled senses eventually coming to primeval alert. It is a Zen thing. Learning to slip quietly through land pays extra dividends. Like the morning the grandsons and their Dad slipped up on a healthy fawn, which presently evacuated the premises. Or, on the “official” (declared by me, the chief picker) day of the season, a flock of hen wild turkeys, and perhaps some maturing poults, putted and pucked back and forth not 20 yards away through the green thickets. I made little noise as I moved glacially slowly, and picked, so the birds did not make me for a typical noisy, clumsy human. They hung around, putting and pucking, for at least 20 minutes, moving with me as I slid from patch to patch, before moving off, clearly unpanicked.
In both berrying and hunting, persistence and keen observation pay off. This summer, the patches were depleted, the canes aging on the heels of back-to-back bumper crops the last two summers. Rather than 4 to 5 gallons of berries frozen for the jam-maker, we only were able to pluck some 2.6 gallons (more than I initially had forecast).
Next year, though, the sea of new canes, already growing like Topsy, promise another bumper crop. Perhaps my grandsons learned a little patience, gleaned from berrying this summer, which will pay off with a bumper deer harvest this autumn. For sure, they will be welcomed back, to get scratched and mosquito-pestered, in the berry patches next summer.