I haven’t always loved picking blueberries.

When I was a child, working in the garden or preparing food felt like a chore, even for foods I liked, such as blueberries. It probably doesn’t help that my earliest memory of berry picking included an unexpected harvest of ticks. My mom, my brother and I had joined some friends to try a new trail, and we did have some success, but when we returned, we found ticks crawling all over us.

Luckily, this was in the early 1980s, before Lyme disease became prevalent in Maine, but it still didn’t make for a pleasant experience. We dubbed the path the “Tick Trail” and avoided it in the future.

Most of my other childhood memories of blueberry picking involve becoming hot and irritable after a few minutes, complaining about mosquitoes and wanting to go home to read. Eventually my mom stopped making me go, and I didn’t try again until my mid-20s, which is when I fell in love with blueberry picking.

By then, much had changed, including having a job and a mortgage. I had also lost my mom to cancer. But when I got out in the field, my memory of her, and her delight in harvesting and eating berries, became so strong it was almost a presence. I enjoyed the connection of sharing something that had meant so much to her. I understood for the first time how it probably provided a sense of connection for her as well, a link to her own childhood memories of blueberries.

I discovered that when I’m picking, everything else falls away. It doesn’t matter how stressful my job has been, the length of my to-do list or what’s going on in the outside world.

In the moment, my hands know how to find the hidden clusters of velvety berries beneath shiny leaves and the most efficient way to pluck the ripe ones while leaving the green to grow. My mind is free of its daily tasks, focused instead on the pleasure of what I’m doing. Far from a chore, the act of picking becomes meditative, an exercise in mindfulness.

Even if I’m tired when I arrive, the activity replenishes and nourishes me in ways the berries themselves cannot. In that state, I feel like I can go all day, and I have to limit myself by bringing only a certain number of containers because eventually I do have to return to the rest of life.

Which is why, unlike in my youth, these days I eagerly await the start of blueberry season and am disappointed when it ends. But I always know I’ll be back the next year, keeping that enjoyment and those connections to the past alive as long as I can.

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