CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Make no mistake about the title; this piece doesn’t aim to be a downer. Instead, it suggests celebration of a summer bounty so blue that it supplants the sky.

I don’t know if it works this way for you, but when I pick blueberries, even for an hour, it’s as if my eyes have taken a thousand photos. Whenever I close those eyes, the resultant slideshow loops through my mind and across the little screens of my closed eyelids.

There are the clusters to be combed from bent branches and the single berries too perfect to pass by; there also are the recurring shots of small pails or half-gallon pickers filling to full. And, to keep all the senses in play, there is even hint of taste, feel, scent … yes, even the sound, of berry-gathering as ripe berries ping off new containers, or nestle one atop another.

Usually, this column takes you somewhere, recommends a patch of public land you might visit. But pointing people toward others’ favorite berrying spots seems a violation, and so this is paean to our blueberry, so common in sandplain Brunswick that it is often a backyard plant, or a wink of blue along nearby forest edges. Berries everywhere, or nearly so; I’m guessing that anyone who began reading this column and has kept at it this far has his or her favorite berry patch. It’s the place you go to back in July to catch the first few berries that ripen, or perhaps the patch you wait to visit until high season’s everywhere blues.

For some years after a recent burn in our greater Town Commons, I used to pick in a semi-open pitch pine stand not far from Middle Bay Road, where the fire-admitted sun had spread blue across the ground. Now, as that spot has grown back toward forest, I pick here and there, including our tame stand of three high bush plants in the backyard, where I wage also selective combat with a troop of chunky gray squirrels. The birds — catbird, cardinals, a thrush or two, even the jays — are free to pick “my” berries. They select a berry, sometimes even a ripe one, and through some expansionist miracle get it down a throat half the fruit’s diameter. One or two berries will do.

Squirrels, on the other hand, are little pigs on claws. Not only do they stuff their cheeks with berries, but they also clip whole tiny fists of fruit from branches…and then drop them to the ground. At first, I thought this a form of harvesting, but the bunches lay there moldering over time. Enough. Chasing squirrels, even for the berry-addled, is fruitless, however. So, I needed a different deterrent. Enter the hose. There like a great placid snake, it lies draped over a chair by the back door. Its nozzle is set on “jet,” and, when I see the quiver of branches that says, “squirrel in the bush,” I step quietly to the door, take up the hose and become my own little berry protection force. By now the squirrels have become wary enough that even the sound of the door opening sends them up tree and away.

But it is the season of berry-gift, and so let’s leave behind my squirrel pique and think back instead to the ripe season’s first true cluster. To get there, we’ll have to walk. Follow these words as they wind along a trail, and, as you do, bring up the images of your own trail. These two trails — mine and yours — are not just any paths; each is a blueberry way.

My trail, I will confess, is going to take us out-of-town, so it’s akin to a bit of trespassing on this column’s purpose. But the spirit of going out, with appreciation, into public land is alive here, because now I am in a state forest a hundred miles west of Brunswick. We’re all welcome here.

Sometimes, difficulty of approach sweetens the berry. On this July going to-August day, I’ve got a rising ridge to climb under a sun promising heat. But I also have the gift of dry Canadian air overhead and more than a liter of water in my running vest. “This,” I say to everyone not around before shoving off on the Woodland Trail, “is going to good.”

It is good. Sunlight dapples the woodland floor; the duff-soft trail winds among beech and maple trees. I climb quickly, reaching a trail junction and bearing left on the aptly-named Vistamont, which takes me up Gilman Mountain. There, at 2700’ on an open ledge, I shuck off vest and shoes, sit down and bask. To my north, the White Mountains show off their rugged edges and high ridges.

Basking slides into nap, a longlying mountain-top habit. When I awaken, blink my way back to awareness, I catch a wink of color in my peripheral vision. There, to my right, is blue. Well, yes, given this column’s topic, you know what I saw — amid granite wrinkles of ledge, were bushes laden with clutches of blue.

What’s for lunch? Enough berries to stain my fingers blue and turn my tongue purple. May you find and celebrate your own berry-gorged spots.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident and chair of the town’s Conservation Commission. He writes for a variety of publications. Outside Magazine named his recent book, Critical Hours — Search and Rescue in the White Mountains, published by University Press of New England in April, one of its Best Books for Spring ‘18. It is available at Gulf of Maine Books, Longfellow Books and other venues. He may be reached at [email protected]

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