Yesterday, I picked our blueberry bushes using my usual method—one for the mouth, one for the bowl, one for the mouth, one for …well, you understand. Also, as usual when out in nature, I fell into a contemplative mood.

I thought about how the birds had eaten their fair share of this summer’s blueberry production, even though Neal had erected blueberry cages. I knew the greedy birds had had their fill because I got one of the bandits, a teensy goldfinch, who upon seeing me, tried his darndest to escape the net. It was clear he’d forgotten the way and he was having a panic attack. He had gotten inside the cage because there was a fraction of an opening at the bottom but surprised by my arrival, he couldn’t find it directly. Since he was so absolutely cute, I did the only thing I could do. I unzipped the cage and he located open sky and flew.

I imagined the birds, already devouring what they wished, telling each other, “Now, leave something for the humans. Don’t eat ALL the berries!”

Or maybe they’d left some because they, like small planes, had to consider weight distribution before taking off.

As I picked, I thought about the Eastern Oregon equivalent of blueberries, the mighty and supreme huckleberry. Huckleberries are so coveted that families have their own maps of patches known only to them and them pass them down from parents to children. While cleaning out my files recently, I came across the one my father had drawn for me in order to reach a Mt. Adams patch.

Legends have been written about the huckleberry and its scarcity makes it even more special to those of us who tracked patches of it every summer, stripping the bushes for our jams, syrups, ice creams, and eating it right from the hand. I can taste that sweet tartness even now.

When we lived in Rockaway, we were blessed with Western Oregon huckleberry bushes which I protected from deer, bear, and humans. One patch grew near the mailboxes we shared with our neighbor, right along our property lines. I waited and waited for the berries to turn from red to plum-colored, checking every day as I picked up our bills, catalogs, and correspondence. One day I saw they would be ready the next day, and got my bowl prepared to pick right after the mail came. When the little white van had turned around and gone back down the hill, I went to the mailbox, only to find our neighbor, transplanted from urban life to coastal dwelling, had sheared the bushes he found lumpy and misshapen into a long, square hedge. I cried.

Then I thought about the greatest huckleberry picker of all, the grand poobah wizard, my grandma. Dad would hear via the huckleberry vine the patches were ready and tell us to be ready bright and early. Grandma would arrive in her Fiat, jump into our Chevy stationwagon, and off we’d go, armed with the picnic lunch Mom had prepared, and our buckets fashioned from old MJB coffee cans or gallon shortening cans. I liked the shortening cans best because the handles were crafted and there were no sharp edges, unlike the MJB cans with their rusty wire handles and sharp tops. We’d start at the top of a hill and bush by bush, slide down. We’d get sticky and sweaty and were plagued by crawling and flying bugs. Still we picked and when we grew tired of picking our grandmother first shamed us by showing us how full her bucket was, reminding us she was an old lady we surely could beat, and then she told us stories of her youth, or sang songs she’d grown up with. The latter always encouraged us to pick faster as she did not carry a tune as well as her bucket. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, our mouths were purple and our buckets full.

Picking my own blueberries now, I thought of those huckleberry picking days, quietly sang a few lines from her songs, and before I knew it, I had my bowl full of berries ready to be processed.

Lots of us grew up in gardens or the outdoors and that’s why we are there now as adults; that’s why we encourage our kids and grandchildren, and heck, everyone we know, to get out in the garden, out in Nature herself, with others. That’s where the best learning, bonding, and wonderful fond memories occur.



THE POOP SCOOP (or a cautionary tale in which I learn not to believe everything I read on the web.)
I often use Dr. Google as a reference in health matters, instead of incurring the cost of going to my doctor, only to discover that he also, in order to answer my questions or address my symptoms, turns to his computer and googles.
         Last week I became interested in why my poop was black. I wondered what that meant, knowing that poop color can signal illness or merely tell what a person has been eating; for example, red poop and pee means I’ve been eating beets. I hadn’t eaten beets, and the poop was black. So, I googled “black poop.”
         Pages of sites popped up on my Google list. More people than I ever dreamed of had the same question. Perhaps black poop had become an outbreak of epidemic proportions. That thought gave me pause.
         I clicked on the Mayo Clinic site and read. And froze. All systems froze. Denial arose. Surely what I read could not apply to me.
         I clicked on the next site, and the next site–
         No, I hadn’t drunk any Pepto-Bismol or eaten licorice, which could cause black poop. None of the possible non-horrible reasons suggested on these websites applied. That left only the horrible reasons.
As the saying goes, my shortened life flashed before my eyes. I might be afflicted with kidney disease or a perforated ulcer. Esophogeal, stomach or intestinal bleeding.
         Oh, my god, I was going to die! I was going to die!
What was I going to do? Would I want a service or not? I weighed the pros and cons. Right then I decided I would not tell my husband of my findings just yet, because there were fun events coming up in our lives. I didn’t want to miss any of them in lieu of making preparations to die. I wouldn’t tell my friends, either, for the same reasons. I had things to do, it was summer, and I just wanted to enjoy my last moments on Earth.
I hoped only to have enough energy to complete my amusements. In order to determine my level of energy as a baseline, I took a quick assessment of my present condition. I felt fine. My stomach didn’t hurt. I peed right on schedule. I was amazingly healthy given what these sites told me I was dying of.
         Feeling so well, I realized I was unwilling to accept my certain fate as  promised by these websites, I hoped for another opinion. I opened another site,, and read more. There, off to the side under a photo of a bowl of blueberries, I read, “A bowl of blueberries is a healthy snack but they can also turn your stool black, causing ‘false melena.’”
         Why the heck wasn’t this exception placed FIRST in all the symptom explanations of ALL the sites? Why did I have to die at least four deaths before I came to this sentence?
         Of course. I’d picked blueberries two days before, and when I pick blueberries, it’s four for me and one or two for the bowl. In this manner, I’m certain I ate waaaay more than one cup of blueberries. Please assure me I’m not the only one who picks blueberries this way. How can one refrain when the blueberries are fat, fresh, tasty, healthy for us, and so readily available?
         I offer readers this cautionary tale in case some of you pick blueberries the way I do and suffer the consequences, then in your search for explanation regarding your symptom do not find the teensy relieving photo and sentence. I also offer this cautionary tale if you have a dramatic bent and only a small wisp of common sense and leap immediately to the worst conclusion.

         The lesson in my newfound wisdom is this: Many doctors hate Dr. Google for a reason. Don’t believe everything you read on the web.