in Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus
I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
I met them one day and each had a flower
Stuck into his berries as fresh as a shower;
Some strange kind — they told me it hadn’t a name…
Who cares what they say? It’s a nice way to live
Just taking what Nature is willing to give.
Robert Frost, “Blueberries”
Although everyone appreciates the flavor and aroma of wild strawberries, many people balk at the tedious job of picking them. The berries must be picked free of the calyx or “hull” and one must be careful to exclude leaves, sticks, or trash, for the berries are small and easily crushed and picking over the day’s haul would be too difficult. The care necessary to see that nothing but clean berries goes into the pail makes it fill slowly, especially since one is under constant temptation to take a toll betweeh plant and pail.
Early last summer I drove to an abandoned orchard on a southern slope where strawberries like to grow. The season had been perfect and the berries were so thick they covered the ground, looking like a red carpet unrolled before me. I could sit down a pick a quart of berries without moving. I stayed there all day, the strawberries sufficing for my lunch. A sudden shower caught me far from the shelter of my car, so I just kept picking.
The returning sun soon dried my clothes and the berries seemed brighter and fresher than before. The day was a revel in beauty, flavor, and aroma, and at its close I felt that I had spent few more worthwhile days in my life.
My neighbor raises strawberries in his garden. When he found how I had spent my day, he felt sorry for me. He thought it a shame that I had driven twenty miles and spent the day obtaining only twelve quarts of berries, while he had been able to gather the same quantity of cultivated berries in an hour from his own backyard.
A friend who shared our shortcake that evening, although he appreciated the superior flavor of the wild berries, felt bad about me having spent my day at such tedious labor while he was enioying a game of golf. He wondered aloud if it really paid to pick wild berries when one considered the labor involved, the amount of fruit obtained, and the price of berries on the market.
I could have argued with these two men, but I didn’t. It would have been easy to have reminded my neighbor of the many hours of planting, weeding, mulching and runner-pinching he had devoted to his little strawberry patch, while I had done nothing for mine except pick them. He had put out hard cash for plants, tools, fertilizer, mulching materials and taxes on his land, while I had invested nothing but a pleasant drive in the country. To my friend who was worried about the economics of berrypicking, I could have pointed out that my day had been far less expensive, no more strenuous, and considerably more profitable than had his own day at the golf course.
I could have argued the economics of wild strawberries, but it would have been pointless. The truth is that none of us spent that day seeking economic gain. All three of us had been searching for something which is hard to put in words. In the poem at the beginning of this chapter, Robert Frost has beautifully symbolized the elusive treasure we were hunting as a strange flower without a name. Maybe my neighbor saw this flower growing in the corner of his garden, and my friend might have glimpsed its color in the rough beside the fairway. I found it mingling its fragrance with that of the wild strawberry in an abandoned orchard. I felt no need of economic profit to justify my having spent a day in its neighborhood.