28 July 2006

In the Blues

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
Six o’clock in the morning comes very early – especially in the summertime when you’re twelve years old. For three weeks each summer, from the ages of 10 through 15, I earned money for new school clothes by picking blueberries. For most of those summers my mom and my older sister, Beth, were there, too.

By 6:30 am we’d be out in the field, on our assigned row, and reaching for those first few handfuls of cool, morning berries. Not being much of a morning person myself, the thought of wet grass and wet berries combined with the early hour was not very motivating.

My mother had to do a fair amount of cajoling to get us to be productive pickers. She came up with all sorts of techniques. Who could pick the first bucket of the day? Who would have the heaviest bucket? She taught us to clean pick, and pick well, by reminding us to gather up our “lead berries,” berries that had fallen to the ground and would therefore add that extra weight to our bucket. Once one of us was ready to “top off” our bucket before taking it to be weighed, everyone would pitch in those last few handfuls to finish it off.

If you came back with anything less than 15 pounds, well, then, the berries were small (or you just hadn’t been picking very earnestly that morning). Anything over 18 pounds was really pushing it. You ran the risk of losing precious handfuls of berries as you tried to haul it down the row without stray branches wicking off the top, or your own feeble fingers losing their grasp on the handle.

At the end of each day, we’d receive a carbon copy receipt of our total poundage. We’d keep these posted on the side of the refrigerator at home -- a little friendly competition to spur us on throughout the season. One summer we picked one ton (2,000 lbs.) between the three of us.

By two o’clock in the afternoon the harvest would be done for the day. The truck would be arriving soon to pick up the flats, as the escalating heat would only crush the berries. Sometimes as an afternoon treat, mom would take us to the city park along the Columbia River where we could cool off in the water and play in the waves from the river traffic.

Today I went out to Fordyce Farm in northeast Salem at a more civilized hour, and picked at a rather leisurely pace. I was reminded of the solitude of the blueberry patch, and how good a cool breeze feels when you’re out working in the sun. I paid $4.50 for my 5.8 pounds of fresh blues.

15 July 2006

A Saturday of Sun and Saveur

Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
With the hot afternoon sun already drawing crowds to the cascading fountain at Jamison Square Park, the area was brimming with music, food, and francophiles in celebration of Bastille Day. Of particular anticipation was the second annual Waiters Race, in which servers from local bars and restaurants competed for prizes (and bragging rights).

The task was to speedwalk – good waiters never run – multiple times around the perimeter of the square, the total distance roughly equaling one mile. Sounds simple, right? The trick was doing it in traditional Parisian waiter attire while balancing a tray with a full water bottle and three full glasses. The successful participant would pass the finish line with as close to a “full complement” as possible. Penalties were assigned for spilled items, or tactics such as balancing the tray against the body for stability. The best times after figuring in the penalties collected one round-trip air ticket to Paris (first place) and small cash awards (second and third places).

08 July 2006

Along the Long Tom Country Trail

Long Tom Trail
Originally uploaded by Katherine H.
I headed south today on a self-guided tour through the farmlands of the Long Tom River watershed. Lane County has started a new ecotourism project, and the Long Tom Country Trail is the first part. Already existing farms, stables, galleries, and vineyards give shape to the trail route. It’s a way to sustain local economic ventures, and draw customers to the area. You are welcome to stop at any of the sites indicated on the map and enjoy what they have to offer. Next month, the Lorane Country Trail will open, and in August the Fern Ridge Country Trail will be ready for visitors.

After printing out the online map, I burned a cd of songs that had been trapped on my computer to be my soundtrack for the afternoon. My goal was to drive as much of the trail as I could and still make it to the Lane County Historical Museum before it closed at 4 pm.

Field mowing was the task of the day. Nearly every field in Linn and Lane Counties had sickle-bar mowers busily cutting dried grass and shaping it into windrows to be baled. Passing the Smyth Ranch, at first glance I thought I saw three bulls standing in the shade. A few yards down the road when my double take caught up with my brain, I realized they weren’t bulls after all…but bison clustered together near the farm gate. Whether it is alpacas, appaloosas, sheep, cows, or even the odd buffalo -- a drive along these roads provides good animal watching.

Something that caught my eye that was not indicated on the trail map was the Danish Cemetery on High Pass Road. Set on a small knoll overlooking the surrounding farmland were headstones engraved with names such as Sogaard, Jendresen, Mikkelsen, and Bertelsen. The arch at the entrance states: Kampen er til ende bract. The accompanying plaque simply says “The struggle has ended.” It is dedicated to the Danish settlers, 1903-1981.

After driving through Cheshire and Alvadore, I arrived at the Historical Museum with time to spare. I submitted a records request to the archives for the original diary of Ellen Hemenway Humphrey, my great-great-grandmother. Part of her writing was published in a 1994 anthology of Oregon letters and diaries. The anthology indicates that the museum is the keeper of the original document. In a few weeks, I’ll find out if that is the case, and what new adventures that may send me on!