September 6th, 2016
Ever since we have lived in Northern Canada, it has become our family’s tradition to spend the Labour Day weekend picking wild blueberries in the surrounding hills. We labour at collecting enough berries to enjoy throughout the upcoming year. When temperatures dip down to -15 degrees Celsius or colder, one appreciates these tasty reminders of warmer times. The process has been streamlined through much trial and error. Our daily quota is 15 cups of berries in 1 ½ to 2 hours. Total amount to be collected is about 75 cups. In past years, picking berries for several hours has led to mutiny by certain family members who are not as eager as their mother to scrounge the countryside in search of ripe berries. The containers must be a size that keeps teenagers motivated. Expecting ice cream buckets to be filled by a teenager who only a short while ago was sleeping blissfully in his bed is futile. I use “treat training” to inspire my teenage sons to quicken their picking pace. These homemade treats originate from mom’s kitchen. They enjoyed cinnamon roll pancakes on the first day – complete with cream cheese icing. The second day was a truly Canadian experience of “beaver tails” – a sweet bread concoction. Today’s treat was chocolate dipped sugar cookies in the shape of a maple leaf. Not surprising, they met their quota.
This year, we included Bailey in the berry harvesting activity. She normally sleeps in the morning after an hour hike around Jean Lake or through the nature trails. Rousing her took some effort until the harness appeared. Bailey associates the harness with van trips to the dog park or many other wondrous places. We drove to the berry patch uphill from Tanya Lake where the plants grow on an open hillside. The team clamoured out and the containers were given out. We lucked out because most of the mornings were cool and strong winds kept the pesky black flies at bay. It soon became apparent that Bailey did not know “the berry rules“. She seemed to think that we were picking berries for her to eat. I don’t think so. Bailey was told to get her own berries. She did just that. It was like watching a one of those huge farm combines mow down a field of crops. Bailey slurped her way from one berry bush to another. I did not mind when she followed behind. But, in front of me was a different matter. I unexpectedly selected a few slobber-covered berries which were quickly rejected. Bailey made quick work of the rejected ones. A number of times, Bailey plopped herself in a patch of berries that hung in clumps – squishing many with her rump. I gave up trying to move her and just picked around the black lump. We spread out in search of our own desirable berry patch and Bailey bounded between us. A shout at the last moment warned of her approach and containers were safely stowed. Sometimes, I left my container unattended as I scouted for a new spot. Bailey came close to emptying the contents if I had not whisked the container away in the nick of time. Berry picking and Bailey was challenging at times.
We were not the only pickers on the hillside. Others were partaking in the same activity. I am sure from a distance that Bailey must have looked like a young bear grazing for berries. Two mothers showed up with three young children under the age of six. Bailey seemed a little concerned when one of the boys began to get boisterous. Was he hurt? I managed to keep her from investigating. A charging black giant puppy that resembles a bear might not be greeted with open arms. After a while, Bailey tired of berry grazing and lay down for a nap. I envied her but, kept plucking berries. The quota had to be met. As my hands carefully selected the ripe berries, I admired the view of the big land with my bear-like puppy at my side.