One of my favourite summertime activities is a visit to Harper’s U-Pick in Hillsborough, NB when the raspberries are ripe.
It’s not far from my home, so after my morning coffee, I may head down for a few bowls of berries before the sun rises too high. The difficult part is to only pick enough for a few days of eating…so I can come back again later for more.
The land, a long gently sloping strip that floats out on the marshes towards the Petitcodiac River belonged to Gerry Harper’s grandfather, who ran a market garden. “I used to spend summers out here when I was a boy,” Gerry told me. He loves this land, the flow of it, the feel of the earth in his hands, the way it dances after dark.
“If you walk out here at night,” he says, “the marsh is alive with fireflies.”
He enjoys experimenting with different kinds of fruit…gooseberries, elderberries, black currents, more raspberry varieties. As we walked between the test rows in the lower field, we talked about irrigation and drainage, insect control, pruning, the hard work of raspberry farming that culminates in these few short weeks out of the year.
I decided it has to be love that drives a farmer.
The family restored a comfortable old country store dating from the days of wooden sailing ships many years ago, and filled it with old tin cans and antique farm tools and other memorabilia, rocking chairs, a wood stove…
With its bright windows and weathered plank floor, it’s the kind of place where people like to hang out.
Frank handles the money and coffee pot so Gerry can direct visitors in the fields. Frank is a retired fellow – sort of a fixture here (that’s him on the right below). He helps out with the business and keeps a small garden in the lower field. Last year, he built a pergola as a shady resting place for visitors and it is already hanging with grapevines.
Alongside the store the washroom facilities…an ‘outhouse’ and the prettiest hand washing sink I’ve seen.
To be perfectly honest, though, it’s not so much about the raspberries – they are certainly not my favourite fruit – but it’s the act of picking them that really appeals to me.
I look forward to the quiet light of the morning, the songs of birds, the long neat rows, the warm smell of damp earth rising, the greyed and weathered crosses that hold the plants upright. There is orderliness juxtaposed against the unruly nature of the berry stalks.
Raspberry picking is an act of patience. It cannot be hurried or one will end up with more slivers and scratches than berries. The branches must be parted carefully, as the best berries are often the hidden ones.
It is an act of feeling, as well…a perfectly ripe berry will have a slight plump give to it, whereas one that may be a day away from ripeness will offer resistance when gently pressed. They are quite beautiful, with pillowed ridges to catch the light.
It is an act of friendship and family and community…I overheard many wonderful conversations, quietly shared across the berry branches. I watched a grandfather picking with his grandson, young children with their parents. I know that a few boxes of my morning’s harvest will end up with neighbours and seniors.
It is an act of peace…as the body becomes accustomed to the listening, touching, seeking, choosing, the mind has a chance to drift.
Today, I thought about my grandson Colin, and how I wanted to bring him here someday. How I would show him these things I know…how he would learn that picking raspberries can be good for the soul.