Zen and the art of berry picking

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Last week I wrote an ode to lingon, or low bush, cranberries.

This week I thought I would expound profound on zen and the art of berry-picking.

A lot of people who come north will make the cardinal mistake of asking, “Where is a good berry-picking spot?”

The answer is, “If I tell you, I would have to kill you.”

That would certainly put a damper on the whole zen-like experience. The problem is, if you find a good berry-picking spot and tell people, chances are that by the time you get to it next year, it will be picked clean. So, when it comes to good spots “don’t ask, don’t tell” seems to be the best approach.’

In this week’s Dump Tale, columnist Walt Humphries shares some tips and tricks for finding great berry-picking spots. In the photo above, Gina Lenoir shows off some berries from the blueberry bush she and her grandmother planted at the community garden in Enterprise in 2015. (NNSL file photo)

However, here are some tips to finding your own good spots. Start by learning how to recognize the plant. They are small plants, grow close to the ground and have shiny dark green leaves. They grow all over the place if the conditions are right, so you can wander around and find a few berries here and there. But to find a really good patch is an art.

You have to understand that to thrive, the plants and berries need three things. They need some soil or some sort of moist medium to put their little roots into. It could be a little depression or crevasse in the rocks that has gathered a little soil. It could be the soil of the forest floor. It could be into moss in a swamp area or I have even seen them growing out of an old stump. Next, they need sunshine, the more the better, so they tend not to grow in really shady spots. Finally, they need moisture. So, they tend to grow in topographic hollows, on the downslope of hills and particularly around lake shores. Personally, I look for birch trees because they also need a lot of water and some of my best patches are in areas where birches grow.

So, you wander around looking for the plants, in open sunny moist spots with some soil. You see and pick a few berries here or there and then suddenly come across a spot or area where the plants have a bunch of brilliant bright red and purple gems just waiting to be picked. What could be more zen-like than a walk in the great outdoors looking for nature’s edible gems?

Some people like to cherry-pick berries by walking around, bending down and scooping up what they see. However, when you hit a good patch, it is best to sit down and go slowly and methodically through the patch because the closer to the ground you are and the more you look, the more you’ll see. It is amazing how some of those little red jewels can hide under leaves, hug the ground, and hang just out of reach.

Sitting in the bush picking berries lets you feel that you are one with nature. It can put you in a zen-like state, as can other activities like raking leaves, working on the details of an art piece and even some sports.

The urban dictionary describes zen as a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. It can be a marvelous feeling, which is why people try to achieve it, but it often comes when you least expect it.

Some people clean and sort the berries as they pick them. Others save that chore for later. I tend to fall into the later group. When I get the berries picked and back to my house or camp, I dig out some dinner plates. I put a layer of berries down on one and then sort through them, picking out the unripe ones, leaves, and stems. Some of the berries have a sort of stamen or remains of the flower that can be removed usually by just rolling them in your palms. I usual sort the best into grade A or eating and grade B for sauces.

You could call it the FPCE of berries. Find-em, pick-em, clean-em, eat-em. And of course, lest we forget, enjoy the zen of it all.