When my parents bought the farm where my siblings and I grew up, it had once been a strawberry farm. It had long ceased to be such by the time my family moved there but there were other places nearby where you could still go and pick your own berries.
I remember the first time I went. I was eight or nine years old and full of life and energy. I jumped out of the car, ran to get my ‘basket’ to pick in, and began right away. It wasn’t long before I began wondering how long this was going to take! Strawberry picking is backbreaking work. Really.
The plants were low to the ground and the berries grew underneath the leaves for protection, even lower down. Right on the ground, really. The rows were long and on a hillside. There were no trees because strawberries need full sun to grow and prosper. It was hot! The ground was rocky. Really rocky. The only way to pick those big, beautiful, ripe berries was to either bend over, kneel, or crawl. My postures ran the gamut; sometimes bending, sometimes kneeling, then finally crawling. It was very uncomfortable! And worse yet; there were slugs.
It turns out that strawberries have a wide array of pests that just love them. Luckily the squirrels, raccoons, and opossums had vacated the fields before the humans arrived. But the snails and slugs stayed put, not wanting to give up their marvelous abundance. There is nothing as disappointing – and disgusting – as reaching in to pluck a berry only to realize that it has been hollowed out and become the residence of a slimy slug. Ick! I learned very quickly to look first, then pick the beautiful fruits.
I learned a lot after that first trip! Getting into the fields early was preferable to arriving late when the sun was already high. The vines were still wet from the dew but the temperature was cooler. Going into the fields early when the sun was low in the morning sky also reduced the chance of sunburn! I chose the berries carefully, going slowly and picking with deliberation. Nothing less than perfect was ever allowed into my basket again. I learned that you could work until you are tired, but not exhausted, and go home to return the next day for more sweet deliciousness. No need to kill one’s self! I believe life is to be enjoyed in even the most mundane chores. And, over the years I have learned to enjoy even the small things I do.
Getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the strawberry fields is not easy for me because I am not a morning person. Yet witnessing the early morning sunrise is a reward I would not trade for any amount of gold. Bending, crouching, kneeling over low growing strawberry plants is backbreaking work yet being in nature, in the cool of the morning, and inhaling the fresh clean air is worth the momentary discomfort. Hearing the birds sing in the trees and bushes and the scurrying noises of small animals nearby reminds me that we humans are not the only ones living here. In fact, on this day, in the strawberry field, cultivated though it is, I am the interloper. The one who does not belong. I do not live here. I am but a visitor and I give thanks for being allowed to come here for a bit. And reap the rewards of Mother Nature.
I take my strawberries home. They will be cleaned and some will be kept for fresh eating. They will be used in a fruit salad or just popped into one’s mouth, eaten cold from the refrigerator. Some will be made into strawberry jam for use on toast. Others will be packaged and frozen for strawberry smoothies throughout the winter. Then, when it is cold outside and the strawberry picking experience is but a distant memory, I will recall the trip to the fields and smile and enjoy.
Have you ever been strawberry picking? It is definitely an experience!