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What I Wouldn’t Do for a Bucket of Blueberries – or a Column

by on August 08, 2018 5:00 AM

I count seven supermarkets within 5 miles of my house. All of them sell blueberries. But for a certain member of my household, farm-raised berries just wouldn’t do, not after backpacking in Yosemite last month wakened the hunter-gatherer within. Our berries had to be wild, free-range, gluten-free, dolphin-safe.

Get ye to Bear Meadows, a friend told us, but be prepared: Its bog is boggier than usual, owing to a record-rainfall summer.

The wild berry enthusiast donned calf-high rain boots. The best I could do were the lace-up leather ankle boots I wear when it snows. We should have brought snorkels and fins.

We didn’t expect the berry patch to be so close to the road, so we started hiking, the muck sucking at our boots. Eventually we decided that we had overshot the blueberry bushes and reversed field. Back near the trailhead we saw where berry fanciers must have trod before us, and said, this must be the place.

Indeed, it quickly became apparent that we were like the prospectors who arrived in California in 1852 – three years after word flashed ‘round the world that there was gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada: The easy pickings were gone. Filling our buckets with berries would require a deeper dive, almost literally, into the bog.

In we dove. I installed myself on a log, which had the advantage of keeping me out of the water and the disadvantage of being none too stable. With bruins on the brain from our Yosemite sojourn, I imagined a bear swatting me into the drink for muscling in on his stash. This was Bear Meadows, after all. I wouldn’t have blamed him.


Wild blueberries, I should point out, are not marble-sized, like the ones sold in stores. They’re BBs. A hundred would make a handful. And it would take a while to get a handful.

Once I got to picking, though, I found it hard to stop: There were several moments when I thought, OK, that’s enough of that, only to strain for one more sweet little BB gleaming just beyond my reach.

Part of the reason I was going to so much trouble to get such tiny berries was so I could tell you about it: As my picking partner well knew, you can get a columnist to do almost anything if you suggest that he can probably get a column out of it.

A California columnist friend, for example, once agreed to take his dog for a walk on the beach wearing a pink tutu as part of a campaign to promote better health through walking. To clarify, it was my columnist friend, a portly middle-aged man, who wore the tutu, not his dog.

The other reason I was mucking about of my own free will might be generational. Recently I was asked how I’m different from my father. Here’s what I came up with: As a child of the Great Depression, my dad developed a deep appreciation for Comfort and Security. Growing up in a more prosperous time, I took Comfort and Security for granted, and have even been willing to give them up, temporarily, for the sake of Experience.

Thus, sleeping in the Dublin airport in June. Thus, backpacking in Yosemite in July. Thus, slogging around a blueberry bog in August.

Come to think of it, though, Dad loved telling about the day he and Mom went olallieberry picking in California. It wasn’t much of a story: No one fell into a bog, got swatted by a bear or stung by a bee. As far as I could tell, the only thing that made the experience story-worthy was the sheer novelty of it: My Bronx-bred dad was not a berry-picking kind of guy. Also, I think he enjoyed saying the word “olallieberry.”


Having gone as far into the bog as I was willing to go, I returned to the road to wait for my more zealous companion. Then I spied another way in. Maybe, I thought, this path will lead to easier-to-get-to, yet less-picked-over blueberry bushes.

Forgetting my earlier caution, I strode greedily in, and was quickly up to my knees in bogwater. My feet, which had hitherto stayed dry, were sodden at last. That did it. I sized up my haul, decided I’d picked enough for pancakes, and retreated to solid ground.

I hadn’t met any bears, but back on the road I met a guy with the bushiest eyebrows I’d ever seen, smoking the biggest cigar I’d ever seen. He looked dressed for a clambake rather than for a hike in the woods. He claimed he saw a bear amble across the road at this location the previous week.

Soon my berry-picking partner emerged from the bog, all eager to come back for more next weekend. I’ll pass. Now that I’ve written this column and made my flapjacks, I’m ripe for a new misadventure.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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