Blueberries and Boo-Boos, and DANGER

I’d planned on leaving work early Friday to pick blueberries in Leicester (Lest-er) where I’ve been renovating a mudroom that was slowly disintegrating from the combined efforts of vermin and groundwater.  All the rot and mouse turds had been removed.  New rot resistant framing was installed over the waterproofed and insulated concrete walls with a skin of sturdy concrete-board panels ready for fresh paint.  It had been a productive week and I had every reason to quit a little early to restock my berry horde- but just to be thoroughly motivated I went ahead and bashed my fingernail with my long-handled titanium framing hammer.

A note on titanium hammers.  First of all, they’re really expensive.  They are the luxury golf club of hammers.  I bought mine because it looked like a little viking war hammer with its stylized head and long curving axe handle.  Also I justified the purchase because titanium is ridiculously light and I’ve suffered from acute carpenter’s elbow from years of slinging heavy steel.  Titanium is an elfish material with magical properties to multiply the force of a seemingly weightless blow, and I’ve tested the destructive potential of its constructive magic repeatedly on my dainty fingertips.

A good finger mashing is always a terribly shocking surprise.  It’s not like I’m looking elsewhere while directing hard metal along its lethal arc towards my fingertips.  Or maybe I am.  It’s such a cruel interruption to the productive rhythm of work.  Productive tap, productive tap, produ…..PAINFUL MASH!  Blinding pain.  Confusion.  I have this theory that pain is the strictest of instructors, and a bloody fingernail is a semi-permanent blueberry colored string tied around a finger as a reminder to respect the destructive forces at play on a job site.  I also maintain a superstition that as long as that dried blood under the nails remains I’m magically protected from a repeat mashing.  It takes 5-6 months for blood-free nail to grow out, and I can usually maintain my hammer wielding focus long enough to avoid a refresher course from professor pain.  Not this summer.

This summer I treated myself to a second inoculation against a worse fate, since I’m already sporting a purple pinkie finger on my opposite hand that was dealt by a heavy stone during a landscaping project.  In a way its a relief, because on the scale of worksite injury, even a severe finger mashing scores relatively low.  No big loss of time.  No loss of income or savings.  Just a fiercely painful reminder of the dangers that surround us.  And the most dangerous tool I face on a daily basis is me, or my tendency to become comfortable around dangerous implements.  The work is like hopping from rock to rock in a dry riverbed.  You do it enough and you hardly look at individual rocks, but you have to keep your guard up perpetually.  Maybe I’ll leave that slight smear of blood on the keys my left index finger is responsible for- r,t,f,g,v, as an additional reminder.

It was a great relief to leave all tools blunt and sharp behind and drive through the rolling hills of Leicester to the “you-pick” blueberry farm that Johnny McFarlane’s been operating for 9 years, picking up to 300 gallons a season off the hundreds of bushes he put in the ground himself.  Johnny hooked me up with a bandaid to replace the bloody paper towels wet from long since melted ice.  The man is thorough.  The first first-aid kit he pulled out of his truck contained no band-aids, but luckily the second first-aid tin was well stocked.

I was self-medicating with cold sweating cans of Coors beer but Johnny let me know a little sheepishly but directly that some of his pickers would be unhappy if I picked with an open container of cold delicious domestic.  I interpreted this to mean that if none of the other pickers SAW my adult beverage then no harm would be inflicted.  I casually walked back out to the T-100, cracked a cold one on the d.l. and took a long sweet pull.  Then like the dim-witted fox I am stuffed the almost full can in my front pocket.  During the walk along the fenceline back to the orchard most of the can spilled out and soaked through my entire right pant leg.  Not only did I look like I’d soiled myself completely, I also smelled like a brewery floor.  So much for discretion.

Luckily it was getting late and the matronly pickers were all departing to get dinner ready for their men.  I was free to sit and pick and sip my troubles away.  Johnny pointed me to a part of the patch he promised to be “good eatin” and I got to work.  At first it was singles and doubles but soon I fell into a rhythm of plucking three berries at a time.  Even at 3 berries every 2 seconds the prospect of filling a gallon bucket was daunting.  My back began to ache a little.

Then the inner autistic gamer in me engaged and I got into a deeper rhythm in which I became obsessively greedy for those plump sweet blues.  The trick was finding a bush especially burdened with ripe berries and pulling them off by the handfull.  Unlike hammer work I could do this almost entirely by touch.  My hands were learning to pick 5-6 ripe berries at once while leaving the under-ripe red and green bits on the bush.  After a day of manipulating destructive constructive forces it was a pleasure to simply gather sweetness from living branch and limb.

I brought my pride and shame over to Johnny’s table to pay for the fruits of my labor.  My wet leg still reeked of cheap beer but he pretended not to notice.  To ease my guilt and enhance my pantry I also bought a watermelon and some glorious looking cucumbers.  Johnny told me he’d built houses for 30 years before retiring to the picking fields.  His days of purple fingernails were behind him- unless you count berry juice.  I was jealous.  I’m still looking at a long road ahead littered with bloody bandages.


16 responses to “Blueberries and Boo-Boos, and DANGER

  1. Michael, I love the way you write. (Yes, I am his mother!) You need to write a book in all your spare time. My finger hurts. And, we have only about 4 gallons of berries in the freezer, but picking IS great when the berries are large and in huge clumps.

    I am looking at that gorgeous red barn. Maybe you could incorporate your photography in the book I hope you eventually write. At least I can enjoy both in this blog 🙂

  2. thanks momma!! I bow to your superior picking mastery. Sorry you had to read about that bloody bandage business. just a little hyperbole. This you pick orchard looks so much like nearenuf! Maybe you could get some sucka’s to pay you for picking privileges.

  3. Exceptional post! Your beer smuggling reminded me of the days of sneaking tall boys in to the Dollar Cinema and orchestrating coughs to conceal the sounds of can opening. One, two, three ccccuuuuchhhhhh! Mrs. McLure bought all the beer and cigarettes.

  4. Benthewelder, how did I manage to buy the beer and cigaretts? Are you testing to see if I am reading? 🙂

    • I don’t know how you managed, but the BUDs were grateful for all of your contributions of contraband.
      just kidding. You only handed out love, granola, and the occasional midnight beating for us being too loud while reinacting the knife fight scene from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video.

  5. I wish I were thin enough to fit a can of beer in my front pocket. At first I thought you put it in the front pocket of your shirt, and thought my husband would love to be acquainted with your tailor. But then I realized you stuffed it in your pants. I’m sure the ladies who might have objected to your cold brew had no objection whatsoever to the large tubular shaped protuberance in your pants pocket…

  6. I agree with Judy’s first post. I’ll buy the book… hell, I’ll represent you and tour you round North Carolina in the olde Element. Doesn’t that sound appealing?

    • I think you need at least 100,000 people to like your blog before a publisher gets interested so 2 down, 99,998 to go. Oh, also I’d have to write something long and interesting enough…

  7. Well now you have 3 readers… 🙂 nobody says a book has to be one long story or written all at once. From what I’m reading and remember from San Antonio, your ability to weave an engaging short story out of a small incident is impressive. Don’t write a book, write a collection of glimpses into reality.

  8. Reality….what’s dat? Just give’m your take on things…works for me….no footnotes.

    There is this thing about picking blueberries…or muscadines or probably anything.

    You start out with blueberries KNOWING that not only do they have to not be green or red…but also not BLACK….not ripe enough. They can’t be bright blue either…again not ripe and sweet enough. They need to be blue with a whiteish haze…like film on a window pane you haven’t gotten around to cleaning…I don’t do windows so how would I know…but I’ve read about it in the literature.

    You know this and you only want to end up with the sweetist and also usually the biggest on the bush. We have about 40 bushes and this year we had a bumper crop…probably the high number of chill hours…so it is not a question of if they are out there.

    You start off being selective…..and SLOW… We have muscadine picking buckets that hang around your waist and hold about 4 gallons. The thing is curved around your waist…a real feat given my current waist…but your hands are free.

    I’ve learned that while I am right handed…I “garden” , that is “pick” mostly with my left hand. I guess my right had became accustomed to holding the bucket but it just hangs there waiting for the left hand to do the not so heavy lifting.

    Anyway, all you have to do is pouch out your gut which extends the bucket under the limb, dislodge the fruit and gravity does the rest. You can tickle them off or rake them off with your fingers…whatever gets them falling.

    You are selective at first but this drive to get faster and more and more of them into the bucket quickly takes over and it is quality be damned, I want to hustle as many of these prizes into my bucket as quickly as I can. I guess it is hard wired from a time when there were competitors…like bears or competition from members of other tribes but it happens every time.

    When you spread them out on a cookie sheet to freeze, you see the imperfect ones you swore you would avoid and leave until they were just right for later picking…Maybe next time…..

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