The Final Reward
by: Mike Lushington

        Picking wild strawberries is an exercise in patience. At the very best of times, when the berries are large and thick in the grass, picking them is slow, tedious, back-straining work. At other times, it can be downright frustrating.

        It all begins each summer on a bright, warm day in early July. Carla will come into the house and announce that she has just found a "few ripe strawberries" and, "Wouldn't it be nice to have some for dessert for supper?" That is a not-very-subtle hint that it is time for me to get myself out there to see what I can find.

        Early in their season, searching for them can be downright frustrating. Wild strawberries are never abundant in the same sense that wild raspberries can be, nor do they hang obligingly at eye level from branches ready for the picking. No, strawberries earn their name; they lurk in the tall, dead straw of the previous summer's grasses, usually under the blades of new grass and their own leaves. The plants themselves are relatively inconspicuous and many of them will have no berries at all in any given year. There are no shortcuts to finding and picking them; one has to prowl along, slowly and carefully probing through the vegetation, searching for that elusive glimmer of red that just might be a berry.

        Now, some people can bend over and pick, but if I were to do that for very long, I would end up walking very strangely for some time to come afterwards. Instead, I drop to my knees, carefully place my container to one side, and try to grasp the berry without squashing it and without entangling it in all of the grasses and other herbage around it. If I am very successful, the berry will detach itself from its hull and I can drop it into the container. If I am moderately successful, I will have to detach the hull, which means bringing it up into the light so that I can see what I am doing, and pinching off the hull. Often, of course, I drop the berry somewhere along the way, so I have to pick it again. And, truth be told, there are those occasional efforts that turn into instant jam - lost causes before they ever make it into the container. In short, I never find myself thinking, "Oh, I have half an hour before lunch; I think I will go and pick some wild strawberries for dessert." Each foray amounts to a campaign to which I will have to devote a couple of hours if I am to have any reasonable chance at success.

        Once I make up my mind to get on with the task, though, the rewards are most satisfying. I get to spend a morning or afternoon in the sun, usually with a nice breeze to keep the flies down to a tolerable level. I listen to the birds, I watch butterflies, and move out of the way of the bumblebees who happen to be sharing a particular patch with me. Time stands still, at least until my back and knees remind me that it is necessary to change position once again. And then I realize that my container has a satisfying heft to it and that I have a good supply for our next meal and, if the going has been particularly good, perhaps for a bottle of jam for the winter.

        The final satisfaction from the effort comes a little while later. I can think of few finer treats than a cup full of sun warmed wild strawberries over a dollop of vanilla ice-cream, and drizzled generously with home-made maple syrup. At such times, I have to wonder what the poor people are having for lunch, while we are dining so lavishly.


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