Summer, 1990-something, neon-coloured nylon shorts on and scrunchies holding back sun-bleached hair. My grandma has a raspberry patch and it’s teeming with red berries. My sister and I spend a month here, in the Ottawa Valley, each summer. The cousins compete for the largest fruit, crowing over how bright and sweet each berry is.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the Ottawa Valley accent, but if you haven’t, I’ll tell you this — you don’t pick berries in the Valley. You pick burries. Razzburries, blackburries, and yes, blueburries. Pickin’ burries weaves through all of my childhood memories, from raspberry cane scratches to pouring cream over freshly picked blueberries, dousing the top with sugar from a glass bowl.
Raspberries — razzburries — taste like summer and childhood to me, but blueberries are the thing up here in northwestern Ontario. There are raspberries too, growing wild, and all kinds of tiny cherries and patches of wild strawberries, but the blueberries are abundant. Given that pickin’ burries seems to be a part of my genetic code, it’s kind of mind-boggling that in all my years here, I had yet to make this a summer activity. We were always busy, or the weather was bad, or the tent caterpillars had moved in and wrecked the bushes.
Not this summer, though. A few days ago I was home from work early and Matt and M were both at home. We went to the stables. We went to the grocery store. We went home and sat down, until Matt rallied the troops for a new adventure. He and M pick the blueberries on our property, just a handful at a time, but he wanted to see if we could find more. We set off for a guaranteed spot, vital due to the downpour that was occurring, and the fact that we had to come home for dinner within an hour.
Our berry picking that day happened right outside of town, by the airport, in fact, while Matt rattled off who was flying where and we struggled to hear one another over the noise. We didn’t get much, two cups, maybe, but it was fun. The next day we had a bit more time, so we headed down one of those bush roads, the kind that has Matt saying, “We’re almost there!” for 15 minutes straight. We found nothing but wild raspberries (I picked about a cup). We tried another road — nothing. On the way back home we drove down one more road, and hit the jackpot.
Blueberries, everywhere, and perfectly ripe. The kind of haul where you can just sit down in one spot and fill your bucket without moving anything but your arm. M ran back and forth between the two of us, picking up pine cones, tripping over sticks, and handing me green berries (“Welcome, mama!”). We picked a litre and a half, accidentally dumped a quarter of it on the bench seat of the truck, and went home for ice cream and berries.
Now my husband says we have a spot and I can easily foresee where his days off will lead. Luckily, blueberries freeze well, and pickin’ burries is a great way to get outside and remind ourselves of some of the best parts of living here.