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PAUL SMITH: The hills are blue

We have a great crop of berries this autumn. — Paul Smith photo
We have a great crop of berries this autumn. — Paul Smith photo - Paul Smith

It is September, after what has been a wonderful summer, considering where we were last spring. Newfoundland and Labrador has weathered COVID-19 relatively well, and the weather has been great.

When I was a young man, September was my favourite month of the year.

Hunting season was about to begin and it was time to pick blueberries. There’s a unique smell in the air around late summer and into early autumn. The barrens and hills erupt into a bouquet of wonderful fragrances, blueberries I suppose, with a hint of partridge and blackberry.

The barrens have a special fragrance in September. — Paul Smith photo
The barrens have a special fragrance in September. — Paul Smith photo

 

Nowadays, I love all the months equally. I like to believe that age has provided wisdom and a broader appreciation.

But June is supper special. Guess why?

I just returned from an evening blueberry picking trip with Goldie and our two oldest grandchildren, Rory and Harry. We returned home to a beautiful full orange full moon hanging low in the sky over Conception Bay.

Life is good.

While Rory, Harry and I explored and hunted for bigger berry patches, boyhood memories flooded my brain. I decided to share spontaneously with an eight and six year old.

The world has changed so much. Oh well, I figured, we will see how they react. They have no idea about harvesting off the land for money to buy stuff.

Now kids make viral videos to get rich. We picked berries and cut cod tongues, and had no chance of wealth, maybe a new pellet gun or fishing rod.

“Hey guys, you know when Pop was a boy we used to pick berries and sell them for money to buy things.” “Some kids would use the money to buy school clothes and supplies.”

“Wow”, says Rory. “You actually got paid lots of money for berries.”

I think she imagined like you see nowadays, folks selling a few buckets of berries by the roadside. I explained that we picked a lot of berries with steel rakes and filled cardboard boxes that held five gallons.

It was early September and the hills were blue, more so than I had seen ever before, or since for that matter. The Buck Hill was carpeted in berries. It was an absolutely amazing sight. I needed a new rifle for my very first moose hunt. I knew where the money would come from. I could easily pick five hundred dollars worth of berries in a few full-bore, labour-intensive days.

I wanted her to understand the scale and how it was a huge cash opportunity for us kids with entrepreneurial spirit. Not many young kids work for money anymore. I think it was a good thing, nurturing a work ethic.

The grandkids were intrigued for a few minutes at least. Maybe they were just happy to be exploring and picking just enough berries for a few muffins.

It was very hard work.

Do any of you folks out there remember the straps we used to use for carrying boxes of berries on our backs? I made my first set when I was 12 years old I think.

They were fashioned from a burlap bag, most likely a potato sack and some rope. A strip of burlap served as a shoulder strap and the rope went around the box. Some of the bigger boys had longer straps that held two boxes and ten gallons of berries. That was rugged.

My buddy and I used to use a one-box strap set, but carried a five-gallon bucket in one hand and a two-gallon pail in the other.

We’d bring home 12 gallons a trip. Typically we would make a trip to the hills each and every day after school, when it wasn’t poring rain. On the weekends we’d be on the hills picking berries all day long throughout September.

I’m not sure if kids today have that sort of get out there attitude.

In 1979 when I was 19 years old, my girlfriend’s brother and I decided to have a go at the berries for a week.

It was early September and the hills were blue, more so than I had seen ever before, or since for that matter. The Buck Hill was carpeted in berries. It was an absolutely amazing sight. I needed a new rifle for my very first moose hunt. I knew where the money would come from. I could easily pick five hundred dollars worth of berries in a few full-bore, labour-intensive days.

My share that is, because Rick and I were splitting the bounty. Our backs and fortitude were strong.

It was Saturday and I didn’t pick a berry.

I love blueberry muffins. — Paul Smith photo
I love blueberry muffins. — Paul Smith photo

 

It’s going to be hard to believe this but I had all I could do to lug the berries to my truck while Rick raked them off the bushes.

He would fill a box while I carried one box to the truck, about a couple of hundred yards away, maybe 300, so much time has passed. He was picking at a rate of about five gallons every fifteen minutes or so.

We picked 200 gallons and headed for market. I could smell gun oil on a shiny new blued steel barrel. A few weeks later I bought a Savage Model 99 in .308 Winchester. And I shot a moose on Day 1 of the season, but that’s a story for next month.

Blueberries are plentiful this year, nothing like those early days of the 1979 season, but by far the best crop I have seen in quite a while.

It’s a great time to get out and harvest some wild fruit. I love blueberry pie. And I eat wild berry jam almost exclusively.

I alternate between bakeapple, partridgeberry, and blueberry.

This year I also have some raspberries for jam. Goldie and I picked them by the side of Crabbes River a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what the partridgeberry crop is like just yet. I haven’t seen much promise in the few areas I have explored so far. But I have a few barrens up my sleeve.

The kids had a fantastic evening picking blueberries. — Paul Smith photo
The kids had a fantastic evening picking blueberries. — Paul Smith photo

 

Partridgeberry jelly goes fantastic with roast moose.

Anyway, it’s almost hunting season. Moose season opens early here on the Avalon this year. Make sure and have those rifles sighted in well. Take some practice shots before going on the hunt. Next time I’ll be writing about hunting.

There’s an initiative afoot to get the Partridge Forever Society revitalized. I’ll be talking more about that.

Stay tuned.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity.

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