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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Valley in Strawberry Time…

Pickers afield8:15 a.m. when I arrive at Broers’ Farms strawberry field. Fog in the Valley this morning. Strange weather on this day, 20 June, when the summer solstice officially ushers in summer. The mist has lifted but left its moist footprint on the strawberry plants, leaves and berries.

Yesterday I halted my afternoon walk to talk with Ginnifer Broers in her driveway. “What’s the berry situation?” I asked her. Broad smile: “There’s a ton of berries out there,” I’m informed. “Well, please save a half ton for me,” I joked. “What time do you open?” “Start picking whenever you get here,” she replies.

Ginnifer runs out to meet this early bird. She rustles up a cardboard flat for me. I pick up a carrier and head for the field. As early as I am, there’s an earlier bird ahead of me: Rosario, the proprietor of Rosario’s nursery.Rosario It’s Rosario we have to thank for those beautiful floral baskets at Kurt’s Vegetable Stand. She has been in the strawberry fields since 5:00 a.m. she tells me and has already picked flats from Kurt’s field for sale at his farm stand. Now she’s picking for Broers’ Farms. I see two or three white plastic buckets brimming with fruit; Rosario means business when she’s in the berry field.

Time is relative, they say, but for some reason it seems to take much longer to cover the cardboard bottom of the flat than to heap it to the brim. I pick two or three rows at a time, back and forth; wherever I see a plump berry gleaming in the morning sun, I hop to pluck it. Fifteen minutes of this and my back begins to protest: not only do I have to stretch and bend over the row but there’s some sort of hindrance my belt can’t contain. I have to bend over that, too.

What a relief to stand and take in this brilliant Valley morning. (Rosario picks nonstop, definitely years of experience under her belt…and without such an encumbrance as mine). Off to the west two adult bald eagles spiral upward in the Valley air. The sun shimmers off their white tail feathers as it does the green of the Valley. A small airplane drones overhead, a local aviator enjoying the calm morning air. He flies in the realm of eagles, a spectacular view for both, I imagine.

When my flat overflows with berries--the excess tumble off on the ground--I call it a morning. Rosario and I are no longer alone. Fifty or more pickers bob and weave among the rows; the parking lot is full; women and children hunker among the rows seeking berries. Aside from the little boys chaperoning their mothers, I notice I am the only male in the patch. At last another man shows up, a father, his wife and young son wearing a hat bigger than a Texas cattleman’s.A man at work My flat is brimful of fruit. The next step haunts me: washing, stemming, jamming, freezing, preserving, but I need to inquire. “I thought I was going to be the only man out here,” I complain. Dad, his sunglasses riding high on his baseball cap, answers, “I imagine they’re  all at work-- real work.” I think of Rosario and her buckets of berries, the flats she’s picked earlier. My back aches and my legs are twitching after straddling row after row. I look at the heavy flat, know my work has only yet begun and so I reply, “Picking berries, making and freezing jam…now that’s man’s work!”

As per our last year’s agreement Ginnifer accepts a quart of Valley knotweed honey in exchange for my fifteen pounds of fresh strawberries, an hour and a half’s worth of stooping, straddling, and plucking. Only then I realize I’ve been among the strawberries all this time and have yet to taste a single one of 2012’s crop. I select the plumpest (and cleanest) berry from the heaped flat and:

“…as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries: ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did;…’” (Sir Isaak Walton, The Compleat Angler)An hour and a half's work

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