Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's a beatiful day for camping...

"I love you grama...I'm so glad you's a beautiful day for camping." Those are the words of greeting I heard from my 3 year old grandson when we arrived for our 1st annual family camping trip. My response was (as always) "I love you too, Jack...I'm so glad I IS a beautiful day for camping."

I wasn't so sure about the beautiful day for camping part of it didn't seem beautiful when I was struggli
ng to pack the right amount of food, the right kind of clothes, the right camping gear. Seriously - Randy and I received our sleeping bags as a wedding gift 13 years ago and this is the first time we are using them! That should tell you that our camping skills are extremely rusty.

It didn't seem like a beautiful day when we arrived and in the process of unpacking all the important "stuff" we'd thrown into the back of the van the blackberry cobbler I had just made landed upside down on the floor. When the cobbler fell it knocked over a jar of peach jam, shattering the glass and spreading sticky jam all over everything. Try cleaning up a mess like that in the woods before you have set up camp...where's the soap and water? Where's the dishrag I know I packed? Where's the beauty in that?

It didn't seem like a beautiful day when we tried to fall asleep on hard, camping beds . While trying to find a comfortable (or at least less painful) position I found myself wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea.

It didn't seem like a beautiful day when I had to walk down
the road every time I needed to use the bathroom - Thank goodness the bathrooms we were using were new and clean. Or when I dropped a log on my toe and limped around for the next 2 days.

It didn't seem like a beautiful day when Jack fell over backwards while eating red licorice. We thought the big bump on the back of his head was the only real problem until we noticed blood on Amy's shirt and realized he had cut his mouth. I finally managed to peek into his mouth and hit the panic button. "it's bad...he cut his tongue really bad..." I can hardly breath. Michelle uses her hands to motion me "down" and says "stop. Mom. stop. calm down". I say I can't calm down, his tongue is in pieces. Then Amy has him spit into her hand and all the chewed up red licorice comes out. The tongue is intact. Who knows what he cut because by then he's asking for more candy.

My list of "it didn't seem like ...." could keep going, but my list of blessings is longer.

The beauty of camping was having all 5 of my grandchildren gathered around our picnic table for breakfast, eating pancakes as fast as they could be cooked.

It was spending an afternoon at the beach with 4 of the kids, watching David, Leah and Travis teach Jack how to catch eels, while Lisa tried to teach Rory that rocks don't go in his mouth.

It was taking Leah, Jack and Micah to the beach after dinner and watching 15 month old Micah try to throw rocks as far as Grandpa could. He wouldn't pick up rocks that were his size - he labored to pick up big ones that he could only drop - not throw!

The morning we left was the first day the sun really came out. The campsite was filled with sunbeams and when Jack came for breakfast he said "I love you grama....I'm so glad you's a beautiful day for camping" and I knew that Jack was right all along.

I love you David, Leah, Jack, Micah and Rory...I'm so glad you WAS a beautiful day for camping!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wild Mountain Blackberries

"Grandma, tell us about when you were a little girl..." is a frequent request from my grandchildren. I tell them about walking to the bookmobile once a week, bathing in the river when we ran out of water, trying to gather eggs away from mean old hens, running across the field to borrow breakfast eggs from my grandma and bringing home tiny banty hen eggs. And sometimes I tell them about my (mis)adventures in berry picking.

Just in case you don't know what Wild Mountain Blackberries are, let me explain. They are a tiny, sweet/tart berry that grows best (almost exclusively) in the Pacific Northwest on land that has been logged. Vines with vicious, sharp thorns cover the ground and grow over stumps and logs that have been left behind. Underneath the vines and surrounded by thorns are berries worth dying for! Okay not dying, but certainly worth falling, worth scratches, worth bears - in other words, worth their weight in gold.

WMB ripen in early to mid-July and they are here and gone in a blink of an eye. The season might last for 2 weeks, 3 if you are lucky. Every year it is harder and harder to find any berries so the frantic search for them is my yearly obsession. I would just say "yearly challenge" but I think my husband and my daughters would argue that obsession is clearly the more honest word.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about that obsession last Saturday. I convinced my husband that spending Saturday morning in the woods searching for a berry patch would be lots more fun than walking around the street fair. Well maybe not fun, but just think of all those berry pies.....

We started at a spot he had noticed on his way to work. It had all the right ingredients: logged a few years ago, lots of stumps and logs left behind, cars parked by the side of the road indicating other people were picking black gold. We hiked up the old logging road and then entered the overgrown, thistle filled hillside heading for the nearest stump. It was rough, rough terrain and after my 3rd fall and my 2nd step into a mud-filled ditch I was ready to try somewhere else.

We stopped at one place we thought might offer up a mighty harvest, but spotted absolutely nothing as we walked a few hundred yards up that overgrown road. Okay I'm ready to give my favorite patch one more chance. Three years ago it was the berry patch that saved the world. We picked so many berries that we froze over 60 quarts, made jam (!) and even told the rest of our family and friends where to pick. Last year it was so overgrown I didn't even try it but my sister-in-law said it was still the best patch around.

I'm so desperate to pick berries that I'm willing to concede my sister-in-law might be right about the patch so we decide to try it again. It is so completely overgrown that we can barely see the road we used to follow into the woods. We can't walk around the gate this year because of the huge Evergreen berry vines, but we can still crawl underneath. Hey, it's Tree Farm property and everyone goes around (or under) the gates to pick berries!

After walking for just a short distance we see that the road disappears into a new stand of alder trees that wasn't there 3 years ago. We can't go through it so we turn around and I venture off the road we were following. You always find berries just off the road and sure enough, I found some. Randy had equal success and we were busy lifting vines and peering underneath for berries. It wasn't easy picking and it wasn't plentiful picking, but we were satisfied to be finding the elusive WMB!

As I continued picking I wandered further and further away from the road and before I realized it I was in over my head. Literally. The brush and the Evergreen blackberry bushes were so tall that I couldn't make my way through them. Actually they were so tall I couldn't see past them. I couldn't see the road and I couldn't see my husband (or even the stick he was waving in the air to help me get my bearings). Fortunately I could hear him in the distance and I started to make my way back to him. Here's where it gets tricky, or should I say sticky? At my age I should have known better than to pick myself into the middle of a patch I couldn't get out of. I'm 56, I'm more than slightly out of shape, I failed a treadmill test 2 years ago and I take medicine to control an irregular heartbeat. I might be okay U-picking strawberries in neat little rows, but stuck in the middle of an overgrown berry patch??? I'm in big trouble.

I use my stick to try to knock the tall, thick branches and berry vines aside so I can walk past them or step over them. The sun is blazing down on me, my water is in the van and I feel like I'm not making any progress. Vines twist around my ankles, tripping me, and soon my legs feel like they are too heavy to move. Lightheaded and gasping for air, I finally collapse in the shade of a stump and just slide down to sit on the ground hoping to catch my breath and recover enough to fight my way back to Randy.

As I'm sitting there I remember all my other misadventures in berry picking....
1974 - berry picking with my mom. We were picking our way through a much easier patch, but I still fell over an unnoticed log. When I managed to pick myself up (without spilling any of my berries) I said "If I hurt myself and miss the baby shower tonight, please don't tell anyone I was out picking berries today!" It was my baby shower for my 1st baby - fortunately Michelle waited a few weeks to make her appearance.
1980 - berry picking with 4 kids and a newborn. I probably knew it was a bad idea and I probably knew it wouldn't work, but when the berries are ripe I just have to go. I packed up the kids and off we went. I wasn't quite sure how I would pick berries and hold the baby, but I brought an old sheet with me. I figured if women in Africa could tie their babies onto them and still work in the fields so could I. That wasn't working very well for me, so I was holding Lisa with one arm and picking with the other. I had found a flat area with a reasonable amount of berries and each of the kids were contributing to the cause. Did I mention that the kids were 8, 6, 5 and 4? Did I mention that bears are not unheard of? Well we hadn't been picking very long when I heard crashing sounds coming from the edge of the woods. I listened for a moment and then went back to picking. The sounds came again and I felt instant terror. Oh my God - what if there really is a bear, what if I can't get the kids back into the truck, what if???? Okay don't panic, whatever you do don't scare the kids..... Calmly and quietly I tell the kids to stop picking berries and get into the truck. As children are apt to do, they ignore me and continue sitting in the middle of the patch eating berries as fast as they can pick them. So I make another very calm statement, slightly louder than before and miracle of miracles, they actually obey me. At least 3 of them do. Michelle is less eager go back home and her response is "Why?. Why, Mommy, why do we have to get in the truck?" I don't want to scare her so I tell her one more time and again I hear "But why?" Being the really great and wise mother that I am, I say "Because I hear something in the woods and it might be a bear. NOW GET IN THE TRUCK!". And of course, she panics and falls into the berry vines and getting her out of the vines and into the truck takes much longer than I want it to. But we did it. We got us all into the truck and we made it home safely (without spilling any of the berries). The bear? We never saw it. But it sure sounded like a bear!
1985 - berry picking with my dad. We lived in Arizona then and were just home for vacation. He knew how much I'd want to pick berries so he found a patch on my cousin's property and we drove to it on the tractor. It wasn't the greatest patch we'd ever had, but I was home...WMB were ripe....and it was a wonderful summer evening. I always follow the berries. Just keep picking until there are no more berries to pick. When I reached the end of the patch I finally looked around to see where I was and where I was, wasn't pretty. I had picked my way down to the bottom of a ravine. Not a hill. Hills I can manage. This was a steep bank that I somehow ignored on the way down. The way back up was a different story. I tried following my trail. I tried finding things to hang on to so I could climb up. Nothing worked. I finally yelled for help. My dad came to the top of the hill and burst out laughing. Only until he realized I couldn't climb out. Then he sprang into action and got a rope and the tractor and pulled me to the top. The rope helped but it still wasn't as easy as the trip down had been. When I finally made it to the top my dad's 1st question was: "Did you spill your berries?" Nope. Not a one.

Back to this year. After resting for a few minutes I picked myself up and headed back in Randy's direction. Finally I reached him and we decided we were done for the day. Time to head home. I started leading the way back to the road and he stopped and asked me where I was going. To the road I said. The road is that way he said, pointing in the opposite direction. No way. We argued about who was right, we started in my direction, then we went in his. We fought our way through brush that was thicker and thicker. I found a small patch of shade and collapsed on the ground again. Randy kept going to break a trail for us and I planned to follow as soon as I could move again. Before that happened he was back - he had hit a dead end. Then we really debated about where the road was, we had no way to get our bearings. Next time he says, next time we bring a compass and a machete. There won't be a next time I say. I'm too old for this. We start out again but it is increasingly more difficult for me to walk through all the underbrush. My heart is racing, my head is pounding. I think I'm going to puke. I know I can't walk any farther. Randy says "call your dad". Thank God for cell phones. Thank God we are only a few minutes from my parent's. We ask him to drive to our van and start honking the horn so we would know the right direction to walk.

Knowing my dad was coming to our rescue brightened my spirits. I was able to talk and joke with Randy. I knew the horn honking would settle the argument we were having about which direction to go. I was so certain I was right I was willing to bet Randy a motorcycle on it. When my dad reached our van and started honking for us we were both shocked. We had been moving in the opposite direction most of the time and had a long way to walk to find our way back to the road. It was still horrible and I still thought I wasn't going to make it more than once but knowing we were going in the right direction made all the difference in the world. My mom was so worried she sent my brother, sister-in-law and nephew out after us also. We could hear them whistling and yelling for us as they walked up the logging road. We finally made it back to the road and finally to the van where my dad was waiting. Randy is my hero - he made me keep walking when I thought I couldn't take another step, he led us to safety and he didn't spill any of our berries!

PS. I owe him 1 motorcycle.