The blueberries on the slopes below Bob Nagel`s old place on MacKenzie Hill are at their peak. These days Jan and I are apt to include a few containers in the little pack we take on our morning rambles to Dalem Lake. On the way to Dalem or on the way back we stop to reap some of the blueberry bounty. The reward for doing so goes well beyond the full containers we take away with an hour`s effort. As a 14-year-old I neither knew nor cared that berry-picking can be wonderfully meditative. I pick attentively, careful to eliminate those that are too stunted, too green or too mushed. I take pains to disqualify interlopers – bugs, caterpillars, juvenile snails – from what goes into the containers.
But the berries get only a share of my attention, not the whole of it. I keep an eye and an ear open to what is going on around me: the sound of the wind in Bob`s pines, crickets locked in conversation in the bush just beside me, a song sparrow delivering his morning vespers. Somehow berry-picking on a sunny morning lulls me into a notion that the world is alright after all; without deliberate effort I manage to forget for a while about Donald Trump, climate change and the parlous state of affairs with North Korea. I am almost sorry when the containers are full and it is time for us to be on our way.
In case you care to know, blueberries are members of the Vaccinium genus: from the cabin library`s copy of Roland`s two-volume Flora of Nova Scotia we learn that ten different Vaccinium species grow in Nova Scotia. Blueberries, cranberries and whortleberries – they are all Vaccinium. Included in the clan are highbush blueberry, lowbush blueberry, dwarf blueberry, Alaska blueberry. Nova Scotians are blessed with blueberries.
I wonder whether Bob`s hill features two or more species: some of the ones we gather are as blue as we expect blueberries to be, others are nearly black. It is more likely they are different varieties of lowbush cranberry, `the dominant blueberry of our fields and barrens`. Regardless, the ones we glean from MacKenzie Hill are all delicious. Occasionally we see lists of the most nutritious foods; blueberries are typically included in the top ten. In contrast to chips and cheesies, we can eat as many as we like – guilt-free.
After the morning constitutional to Dalem we breakfast royally back at the cabin. These days the standard combination of cheerios and chia seeds is enhanced by Ontario peaches and blueberries from Bob`s hill. Or, combined with yoghurt, they may sustain us at lunch. And there is more. As I write this, Jan is in the midst of another blueberry-focused operation: she is making her second batch of blueberry jam. The Bernardin jars are at the ready.
At night – not my favourite time of day – I am frequently deprived of sleep, beset with what I call `busy brain`. I think too much, about too many subjects. I cope with insomnia by reading with the aid of my trusty booklight – or by thinking about blueberry-picking on Bob`s hill. Sometimes that does the trick: I manage through night-time blueberry meditation to get back to sleep.
Soon the blueberries of Bob`s hill will be done for the season. There is consolation on the horizon. This year`s blackberry crop looks to be just as bountiful as the blueberry legions and judged by early returns, just about as delicious. It seems certain we`re going to have to make a trip to town for another case of Bernardin jars.