In which I tell a story that you've probably never heard before

The strawberries are ripe at last!

Off I went to Biringer Farm to stock up on strawberries. I picked strawberries as a kid -- that's how we all earned money for school clothes in middle school -- so I didn't have any romantic notions about the process.

Picking berries for myself is a lot cheaper than buying them already picked AND I can get them into the freezer when they're only an hour off the vine AND I can eat as many berries in the field as I want while I'm picking. Yep, I ate berries until I broke out in a "strawberry rash." Totally worth it.

The people watching was the best part, though. There were a lot of city folks out looking for an authentic agricultural experience. (eye roll) I was not going to be the person who told them that real migrant farm workers don't ride to the field in a trolley decorated with festive flags and driven by a friendly farmer, and that real farm workers don't stop harvesting after 30 minutes, and most especially that real farm workers don't wear designer flip-flops to the fields, nor do they normally carry cameras.

Nope, I wasn't going to say any of that, and I didn't. I was there to get my berries, and I definitely got them!

Then, I went to the radio station and recorded a story about berries, because it seemed to me that people might want to hear it around this time of year. I hope the link to the recording works!" />","autoPlay":false}],"clip":{"autoPlay":true},"canvas":{"backgroundColor":"0x000000","backgroundGradient":"none"},"plugins":{"audio":{"url":""},"controls":{"playlist":false,"fullscreen":false,"gloss":"high","backgroundColor":"0x000000","backgroundGradient":"medium","sliderColor":"0x777777","progressColor":"0x777777","timeColor":"0xeeeeee","durationColor":"0x01DAFF","buttonColor":"0x333333","buttonOverColor":"0x505050"}},"contextMenu":[{"Item TheFirstBerries at":"function()"},"-","Flowplayer 3.0.5"]}' />
If the embedded link (above) doesn't work, you can listen to the recording by going HERE.

Incidently, the radio station is having a fundraiser right now, selling t-shirts and stuff. If you're in the Greater Swampland Listening Area and want to tune into a great station, the call numbers are KSER, available at 90.7fm locally and streaming online at My show airs on Sunday mornings, 9 to 11am, but I won't be hosting for the next three weeks, it will be my air-partner Mary instead. She does a good show, too, though!

Here's some notes about the story:

In 1993, when I was a fledgeling storyteller, I found a terrific book written by an Abenaki man who is a storyteller, poet, musician and author.
Joe Bruchac has released several recordings of his work (I especially love his collection of Gluscabi stories!) as well as the book that caught my eye: The First Strawberries, a Cherokee Story.

I had difficulty learning the story, however. The narrative was easy, but the order of things didn't work for me. In Bruchac's story, the sun creates stuff to slow the woman down when she gets mad and stomps away. The first thing to be created was raspberries, and then blueberries, and then blackberries, and then (finally) strawberries.

Well, maybe that's the way the Cherokees tell the story, but if all that stuff had happened here in the Swamplands, the story would have happened very differently!

When I tell the story, I start with the berries that ripen early in the spring, and progress through the berries as they ripen through the summer. It just makes more sense to me to tell it that way. I also add in details about how those plants grow here, so that people who hear the story will actually learn something and maybe head out to the woods to find stuff in the right places.

Here's even more info about the berries:

The berries that we Swamplanders call "red huckleberries" are really a variety of blueberry, vaccinium parvifolium. They ripen in April and May, and grow on top of cedar stumps. My horses have always enjoyed eating the entire plant, not just the berries.

Wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) grow low to the ground beside paths and roads, and have a wonderfully sweet aroma. Watch the birds--they know where all the strawberry plants are, and if you're lucky, they will leave a few berries for you. Fiddle isn't very thrilled with these, although she will certainly eat them if nothing else is within reach.

Wild blueberries ripen in July and August here (depending on your elevation--I've found ripening blueberries in September while hiking in the mountains). These plants have sturdy, colorful foliage in the fall, and will grow all the way across established trails. Watch for bears when harvesting blueberries. Ask me how I know.

Himalayan Blackberries (rubus armeniacus) were imported to the Pacific Northwest from India in 1885 by the well-intentioned plant breeder Luther Burbank. Nowadays it is considered a noxious and invasive plant.
My views on blackberry vines are well known; however, even I will admit that the divine taste of blackberries is worth the blood spilled to harvest them.


Life is good.


  1. One of the more charming books I've read in recent history is Strawberry Fields by Marina Lewycka -- you might enjoy it.

    I hope you'll be enjoying some of those beauties at the party on Sunday. I would love to come, but only if you promise to write a chapter of my thesis for me.

    Also: the way you have your comments set up makes it impossible for me to comment from my phone, which is how I usually do things. The drop-down menu is the killer. Maybe others are having similar problems?

  2. dp: I don't use my phone for this kind of thing so I'm not familiar with the problem, but I *think* I've fixed it.

    Can you take another look and let me know?

    I'll check out Strawberry Fields also...I'm always hunting for good new books!

  3. Yep, you fixed it. Now how about that thesis chapter...

  4. I've got a spare chapter or two from the novel I wrote last year...wanna throw that into your thesis and see if anybody notices?

  5. Oh that was soo lovely..your story telling voice is wonderful A!!!!
    Blackberries...we new they had a history beyond huh!


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