It’s a family day out.
A day to put aside the stresses of work and just enjoy spending time together. We are heading out to gather up a day of memories. Heading out to gather some of God’s summer goodness so we can preserve it for the coming dark, cold winter months.
We start by driving to a friend’s farm up in the mountains of the Columbia River Gorge. We chat about a variety of topics as we bounce along on dusty dirt roads. We talk about everything from “what’s on the schedule for the week” to “what type of building provides the best defense in case of a zombie attack”. We finally reach our destination. We gather our buckets and tumble out of the car.
The coolness of the morning is giving way to the warmth of the summer sun. There is no breeze today and we know that we will have to work fast to accomplish our task before it gets too hot. With buckets in our hands and a spirit of purpose in our hearts we begin to pick. The marionberries are big, juicy and easy to see among the green leaves and straggly vines. My husband gives us quick instructions. Gently grab the berry and pull. If it doesn’t come off easily, it’s not ripe. We divide up the huge row and begin. It’s not long before my fingers are covered in the rich purple juice from “gently” testing each orb. The smell of the ripe berries is intoxicating and heavenly. It is in the air and surrounds us with the heavy musky promise of sweetness. Each of us has a different level and space to work on. My five-year-old grandson can easily reach the berries that are buried under the bottom leaves. My tall adult son has no problem picking from the highest branches. My husband moves through the row like a machine, spotting and picking berries at a speed that defies logic. Not sure how he does that, I just shake my head and move along at my own pace. Picking and gathering God’s harvest. Soaking up the beauty of the day and the berry bounty along with the moment. We make short work of the field and are soon heading back to the car carrying our now heavy buckets. Buckets that contain two gallons of Pacific Northwest Marionberries.
A quick refreshing drink of water, and we’re back on the road. We’re not in a hurry today so we decide to take the “backroads” over the mountain to our next destination. We are headed north towards the Indian Heaven Wilderness and some of the best huckleberry fields in Washington. The road is gravel and windy and it takes us higher and higher until we can see “forever”. The views are immense and beautiful.
We finally reach our destination. This annual gathering of huckleberries during the late summer months is a tradition that dates back to the very first people to inhabit this area. Picking huckleberries will not be as easy as harvesting the straight planted rows of marionberries. First we must find a spot that hasn’t been “picked over” already. Then we have to fight our way through downed trees and thick bushes. All for one sweet tiny ripe berry that is smaller than the tip of my pinky finger. We spread out, each of us selecting a quadrant to focus on. We call out to each other when we’ve found a spot with a “boon and crocket” harvest load. Soon the “ping, ping” of the berries hitting the bottom of our empty buckets changes to a “thup, thup” as first one berry and then hundreds of others begin to pile up. It is slow going, but fun. Searching and gathering up these sweet little mountain blueberries just as generations and generations of gatherers have done before us. I always like to leave just a few berries on the bush to allow for regeneration and to help feed the forest animals that also depend on the mountain huckleberry for their winter forage.
The day is getting later and warmer as we work. We stop for a moment to consolidate our bounty and declare…”we are done”. We pile our warm sweaty bodies back into the coolness of the air conditioned car and head home, satisfied with our harvest for the day. A day of gathering fruit and memories.
The next day while my husband and my daughter head back to work, my son and grandson and I begin to gather all the supplies we will need to turn the bounty of the harvest into wonderful jams and jellies. Hot crystal, clear, clean, little jelly jars line the counter top. Big bowls of washed berries await their fate as the stove top canner begins to steam, bubble and boil. Sugar, pectin, fresh lemon zest and juice, some well selected spices, and the berries are all simmering in a pot atop the blue flame of the gas stove. “It smells so good, Grandma,” my grandson declares. And it does! We are on a roll and soon rows and rows of jammy goodness are sitting by the window cooling. Huckleberry jam! Marionberry jelly! Peach and marionberry jam are added to the list after a quick trip to the local orchard stand for fresh Suncrest peaches. And finally… Peach, orange, ginger Marmalade which tastes just like a warm summer day in a jar!
At the end of the day our hard work is rewarded with the “pop” of each jar as the lids seal. A special moment of passing the concept of harvesting and honoring our connection to God’s creation to the next generation; talking as we work, about gardens, fruit, vegetables, preserving and family. Some of the recipes are passed down from my grandmother and her grandmother before her. Some are ones we create ourselves by smelling and tasting; adding a bit of this and that into the bubbling pots. We are gathering it all and mixing it up with love and packing it into those beautiful little jars.