I first noticed that the wild strawberries were coming on when Justin and I were walking up to the woods together. “Oh! Cadie, look,” Justin said. I looked to where he was pointing, and there, down in the grass, was a spot of red–a wild strawberry. Â“Oh, yeah!Â” I said, and we both started looking around to see if there were more. Â“ThereÂ’s another! And thereÂ’s another!Â” we kept saying; each one seemed to lead to another. I knew that they ripen sometime in June, and I had been keeping an eye out for them, but they had cropped up all over when I wasn’t looking.
You can bet that as soon as the little kids get wind that any berries are ripe, they’ll be up there in a flash to pick them. Justin had gone down to the house before me and spread the word. When I came down from the woods, there they were, picking strawberries in the field in the late afternoon sun.
(In other years, when I had seen the first berries, I’d pick some first and then go down and mention it casually to the little kids, seeing if Evan would say, as he often did, “Oh, of course, I already knew that!”, or if they’d all look at each other and say, “Berries? Ripe?” and zoom up there.) Owen asked me after supper, his face brightening at the thought, “Cadie, will you pick strawberries with us?” I said I would. When Deirdre found out everyone else was picking strawberries, of course she wanted to come too, so I took her along with me. Evan and Justin were also already up there, filling up little bowls with strawberries. “Oh, good, CadieÂ’s here!” Owen said when he saw me, and ran down to me. I was holding DeirdreÂ’s hand, and when she saw Owen, she extended her arm to him and said, “Owen, you hold my hand, too.” It makes her feel important to have two people hold her hands as she walks up the fields.
“No, silly, Owen has to go pick strawberries!” I said. “I’ll hold your hand!” Caleb said, who was also up there. Pretty soon, though, Deirdre broke away to go follow after me and pick strawberries.
“Evan’s finding tons and tons of berries, but I canÂ’t find any!Â” Owen complained to me. “You can just follow me around, and then whenever I find some, I’ll let you have some, too,” I offered him.
“Oh, sure!” he said.
He liked the idea, but he kept drifting away to find berries other places anyway. “Ohh….how come I can never find any berries?” he kept sighing to himself as he wandered around. But then the next minute I’d hear him calling out, “Oh, here’s some! Oh wow guys, thereÂ’s tons of strawberries over here! Oh, goody! Oh wow, thereÂ’s so many!” It sounded like he was actually picking more than I was!
I didn’t know where the big patches he was talking about were, because I only found one here and there. Wild strawberries don’t really grow in patches, unlike blueberries. Sometimes youÂ’ll find a whole bunch near each other, but that’s usually just because that place gets more sun. You just have to keep your eye on the ground as you go across the field, looking for a spot of red on the ground.
Since the grass was tall in the fields now, I would swipe my foot across the grasses as I went along, pushing them out of the way to see if there was a strawberry hiding underneath. Sometimes they bow their heads so close to the ground you have to look really closely to see the berries. You spot some strawberry leaves down there, and when you bend close you can see a bunch of dainty red berries hidden under the leaves. Each one is a morsel of pure, sweet, wonderful strawberry taste–much better than cultivated ones, in my opinion. You don’t know how good strawberries can taste until you’ve tasted a wild one. Each tiny berry has all the flavor of a cultivated one compressed in it, with more to spare. Not all of the strawberry plants have berries, though. I found many strawberry plants without berries for every one that did have berries. It is also very irksome when you find the perfect berry, one thatÂ’s so deep red and bulging your mouth waters to see itÂ—and you turn it around and a bug has eaten out the whole other side of it. WeÂ’re not the only ones who like the taste of them! But thatÂ’s why everyone advises to get them sooner rather than later; theyÂ’re such soft, sweet berries, the bugs will eat them up in a flash. But still, after having eaten a really ripe berry, I want to wait until they get that good before I eat them.
All this time, Deirdre was following me around.
“What, Cadie?” she’d say whenever I stopped or made any sort of exclamation. “Oh!” I’d say. “What? What, Cadie?” Deirdre would inquire from behind me, persisting until I gave an answer. “Nothing, Deirdre, I just thought I saw a strawberry for a minute,” IÂ’d reply, and go on looking. But then I finally did find some. “Look, Deirdre!” I said. “What,” she said, toddling up to me, then, “Oh!” she cried as she saw them. “TheyÂ’re strawberries,” I said. “See them, down there?”
“Yeah,” she said, and wasted no time to pick one.
“Owen, Caleb!” I called. “I found some!”
“Oh, hooray!” Owen exclaimed, and he and Caleb galloped down to get them with big grins on their faces. “Oh Cadie, see how many I already got?” Owen asked me happily, showing me the scattering of berries over his tiny bowl. He was doing just fine on his own, so I stopped calling him. Caleb, on the other hand, could find hardly any without any help, and when he did he’d sound surprised: “Oh! I _found_ one!” So I’d call him and Deirdre when I found some, who would both come very eagerly. “GuysÂ—Caleb, Deirdre! ThereÂ’s some down here!” I called to them one time. “Okay!” they chimed, and Caleb ran down to get them. “Deirdre, you coming?” I asked. She was still a ways up there. She got a little left behind sometimes, but we always waited up for her.
“YesÂ—I coming!” was the response. She kept on working her way through the tall weeds, coming down to us. “Should I come to you?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she said. “Pit, me up, Cadie! Pit, me up!” (Pick me up.)
“Why?” I questioned her. “You can walk.”
“‘Cause, need, pit me up!” she insisted, using toddler circular reasoning. “But why do I need to pick you up?” I asked her. “‘Cause, need, pit me up!” I picked her up and brought her down to Caleb, who was surveying the berries.
“OhhÂ…yeah, I want to get that one!” he declared, pointing at his chosen berry. “I want, get it, too,” Deirdre piped up, making sure I didn’t forget about her. “You can have this one, Caleb, and you can have this one, Deirdre,” I said. “MmmmÂ… that was a good one!” Caleb said. Deirdre would always pick hers to put in the bowl, but Caleb usually ate them. And when Deirdre saw Caleb eat one, she changed her mind and ate it, too.
Deirdre was very intent on picking the strawberries. Every time I found some strawberries, I’d pick the best looking ones and then go on. But Deirdre would stay behind and pick every single one until there was no more to be seen, very absorbed in it. One time I had found a strawberry for Deirdre to pick, but then all of a sudden she couldnÂ’t see it anymore. “Where ‘tawberry go? I wanna get ‘tawberry,” she said. I pointed it out to her. “It’s right there, Deirdre,” I said. “Oh,” she said, and very carefully picked it; as carefully as a toddler can, that is! It got smooshed, but that didn’t bother her–just so long as it got in the bowl like it was supposed to. When I gave her one to pick, it was important to her to get it in the bowl, because thatÂ’s what I did. The rest of the time, though, she just ate them. I gave her one to eat and asked, “Is it yummy?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Wanna, get ‘nother one!” And she was off to try to find another one.
Once we were all done picking the berries, we brought them down to the house and divided them up amongst ourselves. There was only enough picked for everybody to have a little bit, but some of the little kids made “strawberry shakes” by mushing them up with some milk, anyway. Deirdre gobbled hers up, and then said, “More ‘tawberries! C’I, have, more? Please, have, more, Â‘tawberries?”
When the strawberries are gone, we look for blueberries and raspberries next, then blackberries–and then before you know it, it’s June again, and we’re looking for . . . strawberries!
Justin and Owen, pleased with the berries they picked