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Summer Berries

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Uptown_Toodeloo



Joined: 10 Mar 2008
Posts: 530
Location: St. Augustine, FL
Summer Berries  Reply with quote  

I remember when I was young, my grandparents lived up in the Berkshires in western Mass. Behind their house the mountains rose. My brother, my cousin and I used to spend long stretches of our summers up in those parts. There was an old quarry track just up the hill from the house. At one time it had rails along the track that used to carry emery and quartz from a pit mine down the valley to the factory. My grandfather worked at the factory, they made grind stones and wheels for sharpening blades. The stones and wheels were composites of emery and quartz.

It was a small town in the mountains, with two brooks the converged with a larger river. Walker brook was just down the hill from my grandparents' house. There was a time when the brook wasn't clean, and people stayed out of it. When I was young, it was clean again and we would go rock hopping on hot days. The idea of rock hopping was to jump from one rock with a dry top to another mid stream, so your feet stayed dry. Some times we would miss just to get wet and cool off a little. There was a wide area just down the road from their house where a pool sort of formed, some rocks had been piled into a small damn, and at he head of the pool was a long flat rock that acted as a slide. It was kind of slimy and got jagged towards the bottom, but if you hit it right, you could shoot the length of it like a flume and land in the deep part of the pool. The rock kind of tore up you pants a bit, so we didn't do that too often.

On really hot days, we would hike up through town to the railroad tracks, and follow them up the other creek that came from the other direction into town. There was a really nice swimming hole there, and it had our last name because our great grandfather, or possibly great, great grandfather, had owned the farm up there, years and years ago. It made me feel like it was our swimming hole, a sanctuary from the surrounding town all to ourselves. Of course it wasn't, it was there for everyone. The hole it's self was pretty deep, as brooks go, and I could go completely underwater while standing.

Now the brooks and rivers in Massachusetts are very rocky up in the Berkshires, not very sandy or muddy like other areas I have been. Mostly rock. There was a ledge near the swimming hole that rose a good 10 feet above the brook. Right below the ledge was a flat area, covered by water, but very shallow. I could guess how wide the shallow part was before you cleared it and made the swimming hole, but time has fogged my memory and I would probably exaggerate. There was a very definite shallow part though, and if you didn't clear it, well there was a good chance you would need to make your way back to the house with a broken bone in one area of your body or another.

I just have to say that 10 feet is not what you call a really high ledge. I have been off of high dives at pools that rose to mightier heights than that, but 10 feet sure does look like a long way down when you are standing on top and thinking about jumping; and considering how hard you needed to run to clear that shallow spot. In fact with those two factors in combination, it is down right unnerving to stare down 10 feet and see very shallow water right below you, with a definite edge to where the swimming hole began. You just needed to take a running leap and push off as hard as you could. Let your feet pound the ground and time that last step with a frantic push that would allow you the velocity to soar outward and over the flat bone breaking rock and into the cool and alluring water, and you ran, and you pushed, and you soared, and the wind buffed at your face as your body dropped earthward, and in that last second before you made contact with the deep water in the pool, your mind trembles in wonderment, did you run hard enough? SPALSH and the water engulfs you and our head is submerged into a cool liquid safety.

We all made the jump, my older brother, my cousin and I, so of course we did it again several more times. Each seeming a little easier to do, but the danger never really changed, and after a while we would get tired from all the running and head back across the valley, along the railroad track. The scariest part of the track was the bridge, but the track was far more direct than the road, so we always took it. Now have you seen that movie "Stand by Me"? Remember the scene when the four boys have to cross that really tall, tall train bridge, and the train comes and they just make it across in time to safety? Well this bridge wasn't anything like that. It was fairly short and much closer to the ground, but it still had its element of danger in crossing. You need to make sure the train wasn't coming before you started across, and then you needed to move fairly fast to get back off of it. Moving fast on a train bridge is tricky because there are large spaces between the ties, and if you miss a step it hurts pretty bad. So I did miss a step once or twice in going across and had a tar covered bruise to show for it a few times. Ever smell a railroad tie, that strong smell of tar and pitch? I get reminded of those days every time I smell that smell.

After making our way back through town and up the next narrow valley to my grandparents' house, we would be pretty hungry. You know what makes a great snack on a hot day after several hours of running, walking and swimming? Why raspberries and blackberries, that's what. And as it happens, both those succulent little berries are produced by plants that thrive in that area in the summer. There was a small patch growing right there in my grandparents' back yard, right at the base of the rise that lead to the quarry track. We would hit those first. The problem is, when there is a berry patch right in the back yard, it tends to be picked over fairly regularly so there usually aren't a lot of berries to be found. Then we had to go for our back up supply, up the mountain.

There was a small footpath up the rise to the quarry track leading from the backyard. We ascended it, and turned right to follow the quarry track. The quarry track was fairly wide, wide enough to run a snowmobile on in winter, or to go cross-country skiing on. It ran for miles down the valley, heading past town, but my grandparents' house was at the head end of the track, and if you followed if a bit, it would end at the abandoned pit mine There was till some old track up there at one point, and then a large pit, covered over with leaves and branches. We were always told to stay clear of the pit because the ground cover made it dangerous, and you couldn't tell where solid earth ended and the pit began. When I was very young, I remember walking up to look at the pit with my Dad, and Grandfather and brother, and because the old quarry tracks where still there, I called it the "Broken-Down-Old -Train-Track" and would always ask when we visited to go and see it. I was fascinated by the dangerous pit mine, it really just looked like a big dip in the ground at that point. As we grew older and more independent, we never did try to walk down into it; the warning was enough for us to respect the danger.

Before the old tracks and the end of the quarry track came an old service road that led up the side of the mountain. We didn't always take that road; sometimes we would just go straight up the hill, through the trees. There was a lot, and I imagine still is a lot, of Fox Grape Vines. Fox Grape is a type of vine that grows all over the east coast, and possibly across the country, though I haven't personally seen it in the Rocky Mountains, but I haven't been everywhere yet. These vines grow very thick with time, and hang down from the limbs of trees like ropes. When you found a really solid one, we could cut the bottom and swing on the vines like ropes and fly down the hill, and of course hope that we didn't land on a rock. Some scouting was preferable. Or we would just swing out and back again on the same spot. Who needs amusement parks?

To make our biggest patch of berries, we would take the service road. It was only a road in the sense that it was wide enough to run a 4-wheel-drive vehicle up or down it, but really it was a clear, two tire track path that cut through the woods. A good way up the mountain - and remember that we are talking about the Berkshires, which are not particularly large mountains as mountains go - there was a procession of high voltage power lines that cut a clear swath a little below the ridge, all down the valley. These clear-cut areas like this are ideal for certain types of plants, namely black and raspberries. As far as you could see in either direct, running under the power lines were blackberry and raspberry bushes. Miles and miles of them, growing wild and available for any one who cared to take them. So we started picking, filling up vessels with sweet little berries, and eating quite a few while we went. Soon enough we had picked over the edge of the service road, but many berries beckoned from within the thicket. You could see them, you could almost reach them, you could even just about taste them on your tongue, but you had to be pretty dedicated to retrieving them, because getting into the ticket was a painful ordeal.

As many already know, blackberry and raspberry plants are leaden with more than just berries, they are endowed with prickles and thorns. You could theoretically spend the whole day picking berries along this stripe of power lines, and never run out of berries, but you would most likely shred your clothes and tear up you arms and legs in the process. This miles long strip of luscious, yummy berries was all but inaccessible, except for the very edges. We tried to work our way in a bit, and keep collecting, but that yielded pain and frustration. So we gave up and accepted the bounty that had already been gleaned. It was plenty; only the prospect of more made it so tempting.

That afternoon, and others like it, my older brother, my cousin and I spent eating berries, remembering the swimming hole, feeling the sunshine, and loving summer.
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"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." - Albert Einstein

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