I am rich in summer days and spend them lavishly. –Adopted from Henry David Thoreau.

It’s that time of year again: blueberry picking time. I look forward to this time of year the way others look forward to holidays and vacations.

How would you feel if you could spend four hours every day for the next two weeks relaxing at the beach? Or four hours every day being someplace beautiful, doing whatever it is you like to do? That’s precisely what I’m doing. I’ve given myself permission to spend four hours every day picking blueberries. I’m even free to do it in the rain, though I tend to get cold after a couple of hours, which limits my fingers’ abilities to do the necessary fine motor tasks. Wet fingers are less adept at removing tiny stems and leaves to begin with; cold wet fingers are just plain unable.

Picking blueberries is relaxing. Focusing on a single simple task generally is. I do it alone, so it’s peaceful and quiet. I am free to think my thoughts at leisure, or I listen to a book on my mp3 player.

Collecting is fun. I’m always curious as to why that is–lots of humans collect stuff, hence our consumer society, but I am in many ways a minimalist. I don’t collect things, for the most part. I own one pair of embroidery scissors–unheard of amongst needleworkers. I can’t tolerate clutter. Blueberries–consumables–are another story. I can’t have too many of them–unless it prevents the freezer door from closing properly. In part, I enjoy collecting things I can use, especially things I can eat, because this appeals to my desire for…

…Self-sufficiency. Providing for my needs by myself is a great source of satisfaction and fulfillment for me. Earlier this summer, while answering questions about shrimping, a friend commented that it was not only easier to buy shrimp, but by the time we factored in our time, effort, boat and equipment costs, it was probably cheaper. That’s true. We know that. But it’s not about cheap shrimp; it’s about providing them for ourselves.

Similarly, a gardening friend explained he didn’t grow potatoes because they are so cheap to buy. I’m really excited to be growing potatoes this year. No matter how cheap they are, I hope to grow enough that I can eat them all winter without having to buy any. It’s not about cheap or cheaper potatoes; it’s about growing my own, providing for myself.


I love the smell of picking blueberries. The wild blueberries here are short, sometimes tiny. You have to get down on the tundra to pick them. I tend to sit right down there amongst the dwarf birch, wild roses, cranberries, crowberries, moss, and Labrador tea. It all smells wonderful, but it’s the latter that makes the biggest impression. Labrador tea has a strong spicy scent. I’ve tried to dry it like lavender, but the scent doesn’t last. I wonder if I can extract oil from the leaves. Four hours of blueberry picking is four hours of aroma therapy. Rain is a scent magnifier.

Picking berries is a joy. Having them to eat all year is another, related but separate, joy. Blueberry crisp. Blueberry buckle. Blueberry tart. Blueberry syrup. Blueberry oatmeal. Blueberry pie. Yum yum yum yum yum and yum! And healthy to boot, which is another reason I like picking and eating blueberries: I feel as though I’m doing something good for my body.

It’s not an especially good year for blueberries. We had little snow this winter, a dry spring, and a dry summer. Huge patches of blueberries have nary a berry. In productive patches, the berries tend to be small. Or, perhaps a patch takes a sabbatical now and then. Time and the berries will tell, I suppose. I’ll try to listen.

In a good year, I figure four hours will get me a gallon. I am a slow picker. (Why I’m so slow is the subject for another blog post, though this one explains part of the reason.) This year, it’s taking longer. I spend more time traipsing around looking for a productive patch, and it takes longer to fill a bucket with small berries than with larger berries. Chances are, I won’t get as many as in previous years, but I imagine I’ll get plenty. My goal will remain ten gallons, same as last year. At this moment, I have three.

If you want to reach me in the next four hours, you’ll have to come blueberry picking with me.

Categories: Alaska

2 replies »

  1. There is something about being physically tired, but mentally refreshed that comes from activities like this. I would love to come blueberrying with you. (And to help in the “disposition” of the harvest! I’m a blueberry fiend.)

  2. It’s a date! We’ll make that blueberry tart. I still haven’t made it strictly by the recipe. I never have all the right ingredients.

    Of course, it’s hard to go too terribly wrong.