By: Sandy Churchill
“Put your blueberries in your bucket, Owen,” chimed a gentle mom to her sweet toddler. But Owen wasn’t convinced the bucket was the best place for his berries, as evidenced by his garbled response. Somehow he managed to contain the purple juice from spilling down his chin while his mother continued filling her own bucket.
I wound my way in and out of the dense blueberry bushes, taller than me and ripening by the moment. The quest for shade was evident as families, singles, and couples threaded their paths close to shadowy patches here and there.
“Maddie—let’s add more blueberries to our collection!” sang one exuberant child to her sister. “Let’s shop over here… shop, shop, shop!” Her energy made me smile. She was on a quest, her determination exuding joy.
I rolled berries into my palm, in the way I was taught so many years ago, when my oldest children were babies. The days of stroller-bound infants and jaunty toddlers stirred sweet memories as I continued the tradition with my teenage son. Gratitude filled my spirit that he still loves this summer adventure with me, and the promise of his favorite scones to come.
The grove was far from quiet on this sunny August morning. The rise and fall of voices in the blueberry patch was a beautiful soundtrack of life and laughter, love and learning.
Praise abounded for some children. “Thirty-six! You’ve got 36 berries, Riley, …good job!” praised one sibling to another.
“We can pour all our berries together,” promised one mom, forgetting about the competitive spirit her children had when comparing their respective spoils.
“Let’s fill our bucket to the tippety-top,” cried one super-optimistic picker on this steamy-hot day. One mom had other ideas.
“If you all just cover the bottom of your bucket, that’s enough,” she informed her lively brood.
Conversations about blueberry buckle versus cobbler, a request for blueberry jam, and other plans for the requisite berries abounded as the picking ensued.
A color and size lesson was happening for one preschooler, as he updated his mom with all the colors he found—pink, green, blue, and purple, and was advised on which ones were ripe and which ones to leave on the vine. “I think they’re all different kinds,” insisted the little boy, “because I found big ones and little ones, all different!”
A pouty elementary schooler wasn’t all that thrilled when her parents wanted this year’s group picture in the blueberry patch. “But we already took a picture last year,” she insisted.
“But you’ve all grown so much, this is THIS YEAR’s picture,” her mom insisted, convincingly.
Another couple commiserated on whether their spirited child could be trusted to go apple picking in the coming year, because last year she had stomped on so many apples and ruined fruit everywhere she went. Her blueberry behavior this year seemed reigned in, so they considered the possibility of continuing the fruit-picking adventures in the coming season.
These lovely encounters were free of economic stress and overseas wars, absent of politics and contentious discussions. Rather, they were the beautiful bits of daily life, family interactions, and sweet adventure. There is truly something special about farms and orchards and up-close time in nature. My spirits rose with hope and gratitude as I savored these family conversations in the blueberry grove. I cherished the everyday words that encouraged, praised, taught, or expressed joy.
My teenage son and I set fun goals of 500 berries or 1,000 berries as we strolled tree to tree to fill our buckets. We anticipated the winter treat of summer-frozen blueberries we had reserved for our favorite scones or for smoothies or oatmeal. Since strawberry and peach season had yielded some batches of homemade preserves, we opted out of jam for our blueberry treasure this year. But the prospect of savoring lemon-glazed blueberry scones on a chilly winter morning sweetened our labors as we finished picking on a blazing summer day.