Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Berry So Nice, You Pick It Twice

Right about now, the state of Maine is groaning under the combined weight of the annual wild blueberry and raspberry crop, and of course, the trillions and trillions of mosquitoes. At least mosquitoes can fly, relieving some of the burden. But it’s up to us to pick those blueberries and raspberries to ensure that the state doesn’t snap off the continent and slide into the sea.

Unfortunately for us, evolution has gifted the lowly mosquito with one brilliant survival instinct. Instead of flying around randomly wasting precious energy looking for a source of warm blood, they wait patiently in blueberry and raspberry bushes, knowing full well that the blood will come to them.

To pick blueberries and raspberries, you have to get up very early in the morning. This is because it’s the coolest time of the day, when the mosquitoes are the most sluggish. This doesn’t mean that it’s actually cool, because even though it’s Maine, it’s still August. Maybe the temperature will be down around 65 – 70. So the mosquitoes are impaired, but not disabled.

Then, you must dress appropriately: long pants, closed shoes, high socks, and a hooded sweatshirt. Even in the cool of the morning, you sweat rivers in that getup from all the bending and stooping.

Finally, you have to cover the backs of your hands and your face in powerful insect repellant. Despite these precautions, black clouds of mosquitoes swarm around you, desperate for a taste of your precious bodily fluids.

There are two kinds of blueberry bushes: High Bush blueberries, and Low Bush blueberries. High Bush blueberry bushes produce a larger berry, and are easier to pick, so they’re grown in commercial blueberry operations. Maine is blessed with the other kind - the kind that grows about a foot off the ground, so you have to bend over for every damn berry. But it’s worth it. The Low Bush blueberries are much tastier.


Unfortunately, there’s only one kind of raspberry bush – the kind with thorns. When you pick raspberries in Maine, you lose a lot of blood to the mosquitoes and the thorns.


We brought our freshly-picked berries back to the camp, where they had to be “picked.” It seems that sweaty, blood-deprived berry-pickers are careless, and the berry buckets wind up with lots of junk in them besides berries. So someone has to pick through the berries to remove leaves, twigs, unripe berries, mosquito corpses and wood ticks. Coincidentally, the person who volunteered for this task is a woman whose maiden name is Berry.


J* made a batch of fresh nutmeg scones the next day and everyone enjoyed them with a fresh berry topping.


One evening, we decided to have a lobster dinner. Because lobsters are considered a luxury food item, the current economic situation has slashed demand. But the lobster fishermen are still bringing in lobsters, which means the supply hasn’t diminished at all. So the price of lobsters in Maine has dropped to $2.99 a pound, which means that they’re cheaper than hot dogs.

Here I am, sending one poor, undervalued crustacean to a horrible, unnatural fate.


Soon, we had hot steamed lobsters, and we prepared to sit down for a delicious meal.


D* and J* eat lobster pretty regularly, so J* has a lot of lobster-themed tableware, as you can see in this picture. I’d like you to pay particular attention to the butter-warmers at each table setting:


Soon, we were all tearing lobsters limb-from-limb and having a wonderful time, although I’m sure the lobsters would disagree. The discard plate looked like some kind of lobster holocaust:


We started clearing plates, and someone tossed their napkin onto the table carelessly. Within moments, one of the butter-warmers had set it ablaze. D* picked it up with a fork and doused it in the sink, where J* lamented its loss.


I love lobster, but blueberries don’t catch fire.

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