28 July 2006
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.