Along with "drink lots of sangria" and "finally admit that I'm abandoning my fantasy baseball team," picking blueberries is one of the only items on my "Summer Must-Do" list that I actually follow through on every year.
It's messy work: Sweat runs steadily down my back, like a stubborn drippy faucet; there's a big hank of hair that has pulled free of my ponytail and matted itself against the left side of my face, obscuring part of my vision; and every time I reach up from my precarious perch on a rickety plastic kitchen stool, something scratches my arms.
Then there's the fact that one of my children — whom I can barely see, due to the web of hair and branches — is nearly always whining, "Can we go now? Mom, can we? Huh?"
But I love it: sweat, scratches, the whining, the whole mess.
Somehow, picking blueberries is meditative for me, although I'm not very methodical about it. Sometimes I grasp a handful and slide them off in one smooth movement. Other times, I nit-pickingly pick each berry individually: Pop. Pop. Drop.
Sometimes, I just get whatever I can reach (see: earlier statement about being precariously balanced on the rickety stool). When I'm really in the zone, I can pull the berries from their branches and let them roll down my arms into the bucket on their own. (Side note to newbie pickers: Do not attempt this at home.)
In other words, there isn't a right way to pick berries — but there is one thing I never do.
The One Thing I Never Do When Blueberry Picking
I never eat the berries along the way. No really, I don't. And my kids, who always get drafted into picking fruit with me each summer, don't either.
I recently heard a well-meaning woman tell my 6-year-old son that it was okay to sample a few berries along the way. "Quality control," she told him with a smile.
He was puzzled. "Mom, can I really eat one? Like, right now?" he asked dubiously. He had no idea that it's basically standard operating procedure among most berry pickers.
Most kids have a faceful of blueberry stains after picking. Not us. We pick. We go home. We gorge there.
Eating them along the way almost seems like a distraction. Some latent gatherer instinct or perhaps some hoarder-esque aspect of my personality gets triggered when I'm handed a bucket and pushed out onto a blueberry farm. Suddenly, I feel compelled to pick not just some but all the berries. And just a few more than that.
Is it enough, I always ask myself, that I'll still have plenty left if company comes over later and I have to offer to let them have some? Just a few more. No, we are not leaving yet. JUST A FEW MORE, I SAID.
Finally, I grudgingly admit that I've probably picked enough blueberries for one trip. We pay the nice family that owns the farm and load the blueberries into the car. On the way home, my kids sing along to Justin Timberlake while I start mulling over what I'm going to do with all those blueberries.
It's easy for everyone to tell when I've been blueberry picking. It's when I begin posting lovely photos of buckets full of glistening fruit on Facebook, followed soon after with increasingly desperate pleas that read something like "Y'ALL. I JUST PICKED EIGHT POUNDS OF BLUEBERRIES. NEED MUFFIN RECIPE. STAT. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."