Wild Blueberry Picking Island Style

My annual Pilgrimage to Blueberry Island

By Mark J. Donovan

Either the last week of July or the first week of August I inevitably find myself being pulled to do something I’ve done just about every year of my life, picking wild blueberries. It’s something I did with my extended family just about every summer growing up. Parents, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even my grandmother would make the annual pilgrimage. However instead of picking them on an island called Blueberry Island, we picked them at the top of a mountain called Pack Monadnock in southwestern New Hampshire.

Again, we’d go in late July or early August to pick, and pick we did. Inevitably my parents, sister and I alone would pick somewhere between 15 and 20 quarts, in 1 day.

We then returned home, where we immediately proceeded to clean and can them. In later years, my cousins and I would bring our own spouses and children to continue the tradition.

Though picking wild blueberries can be monotonous we all still found time to have fun. First was the 1 hour hike up the mountain, where the younger ones always raced to the top. Along the trail we invariably stopped and got fresh water from a mountain spring where we all drank from it and filled our canteens. None of us ever came down sick with Giardia or any other bacterial related ailments. Then there was tossing small sheets of toilet paper off the top of the mountain. We’d try to see whose would fly the furthest across the valleys below.

There was also a rather sublime quietness that was cool yet eerie to listen too as we picked. The wind would whisper through the tree branches, and the bees constantly buzzed and hummed around us. Occasionally you’d hear someone say something, but for long periods of time it was just the wind and insects that made a sound. It was both beautiful and peaceful and I think that’s half the reason we all went.

As time passed on and we grew older, however, the extended family moved away or grew apart with their separate busy lives. Not so unsimilar to the toilet paper pieces floating away off the mountain top.

But all that said, I still find myself picking wild blueberries every summer. No longer on Pack Monadnock, but instead on an uninhabited island on Lake Winnipesaukee called Blueberry Island. Moreover, I usually find myself picking the blueberries alone as my wife and grown children have little interest in doing so, and I have no problem with this. Again, much of the reason I pick them is a chance to relive the experience of my youth and to commune with nature. It’s particularly cathartic on early mornings when the sky is clear and the lake is free of boat traffic. The lake is often both smooth and quiet during the early morning. All you can hear while picking the blueberries is the lap of the water on the shoreline, and the occasional morose crying sound of a Loon or the screech of an America Bald Eagle nesting in its perch on the island.

Picking wild blueberries island style is a lot different than picking them on a mountain top. First, instead of climbing a mountain I need to get to the island by boat. Sometimes I take a canoe, other times I row, and on some occasions I use the 8hp engine to speed up the trip. Second, though Blueberry Island is uninhabited a lot of boaters visit it on the weekends. Usually they moor or raft their boats together just off of the shoreline.

Consequently there are numerous what I call non-serious blueberry pickers taking a stab at picking their own blueberries. Usually they have the stamina enough to pick only a handful or two at best. But that said, there are a lot of them picking.

Completed a day of picking blueberries at Blueberry Island.

So for me, I need to pick where the boat rafters don’t go. And that means picking from non-beach areas, where most of the time I either have to pick from the boat or on small rock outcroppings on the island. It is these areas that have not been spoiled by the non-serious wild blueberry pickers and where I can relatively quickly fill my containers.

Standing and balancing in a row boat or canoe while picking wild blueberries, however, brings another level of challenge to the task.

Inevitably I find myself back on Blueberry Island picking wild blueberries a few times in the course of a couple of weeks. In the end, I wind up getting only 3 to 4 quarts at best. But maybe just as important is that I get several hours of complete solitude and a chance to smell, see, and hear nature at its finest. The surrounding mountains standing tall out in the distance over the lake, the water lapping on the shoreline, bees humming all around me, and the sounds and sight of beautiful and rare birds. It’s simply perfect.

Today’s harvest was good. In just an hour I picked nearly 1-1/2 quarts. But more importantly I had a chance to step back in time and escape the modern trappings of life for awhile. Tomorrow off to the Midwest for customer meetings. I can’t wait until next weekend to pick some more.

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