Yipee! My first blueberry picking invitation! Carol and Sandy invited me, and picked me up early in the next morning. We drove up Lily Gap road ten miles to Mills You-Pick Blueberry Farm outside of West Point, California, acres of blueberries, with hundreds of bushes, all types and sizes. Three dollars per pound for you-pick, about half the cost in a store these days. The area is netted over the hundreds of bushes, so birds don’t win the picking game. The sun wasn’t up yet, so it was still cool.
Sandy pulled her car up to a nearby little trailer used for headquarters, and I watched a skunk scurry out from the bushes, and run under the fence into the woods. Mr.Mills came over on his all terrain vehicle to greet us and get us going. One gallon milk jugs cut open at the top hung from a tree, for use as collecting buckets. My friends had brought their own containers, but I only brought plastic bags, so I tried his milk jug method, very easy.
We walked through a gate and into rows upon rows, thick bushes of blueberries. They looked like gigantic bursting lilac flowers, clustered heavily on branches. Sandy instructed to taste different types and go for our favorites. Some were really plump, sort of juicy, and the little ones had more flavor than the ones I buy at the store. Some were shrivelled up, like the dehydrated types we eat in cereals, and I wondered if keeping them on the branches made the dehydration more flavorful, who knows? The three of us were the only ones there that morning. We chatted and scoped out full branches, using one hand to roll them off the branch, and putting handfuls into our containers, sort of like the movement our hands make when milking a cow.
I felt old-fashioned, like Sal from the kid’s book, Blueberries for Sal, which took place far in the Northeast USA, long ago. Here we were, all grown-up in ‘Ol’Californi’, out for plunder, like old time gold miners, who came up hunting for gold in our Sierra region over a hundred years ago. We were panning for blues, and eating along the way. Something about bending over and over, looking for full branches, pulling off blues and plopping them into the bucket. The silly sound of a berry hitting the inside of a plastic jug.
My friends and I talked about their past picking times, remembered their loved ones who were still with us in spirit that day. Although I am just getting to know these women, I felt the friendship building, with activity to bind us together, gathering a harvest of more than blueberries. The sun came out in full just as we finished, and we sat by the trailer as Mr. Mills weighed in what we picked. I picked seven pounds in an hour and felt like that morning I had really worked. His old dog ran around us in circles.
After we drove away, the whole thing felt like a dream, like many other times when something ended, still felt like a dream. It is a dream, as Shakespeare said, “We are such stuff as dreams our made of.” Each day feels like that, once gone, a vision of what I choose to recall from the experience. That precious feeling makes me happy to be alive. Maybe that’s why it’s called ‘the present.’