Perhaps not. But at least of equal rank is berry picking. I love - LOVE - berry picking. Is it being in the outdoors? The sweet pop when you bite down on an impossibly plump blackberry? The fact that you can walk away with a pound of blueberries for $2.50? The support of a local farm?
Well, yes, all of those things are nice, but really...
Sure there are berries hanging off the bushes just waiting to be picked, but the best ones? The best, ripest, juiciest ones are always tucked away, hiding underneath the mass of leaves.
These are the trophy berries. The ones you display proudly to your mate, asking "oh my god, is this the biggest blackberry you've ever seen?!" These are the ones that you hold between your fingers just a little bit longer than the others - marveling at their perfection - before you pop them into your mouth. The ones where you close your eyes and chew so slowly that your mouth is almost still, not wanting the sweet taste to end.
These berries require patience, diligence, and perhaps...obsession.
At the end of a berry-picking trip, Navah is always calling me away, telling me that we have to get moving. I am crouched down, peering in through the jumble of stems and vines and leaves - "Hang on. I have to get this one." And there's almost always another one after that. I love lifting up the long limb of a blackberry bush to find that nestled deep inside, hidden from the sun and hungry birds, is a cluster of perfectly ripe blackberries. Because of this, I'm a slow picker. Navah's usually half-way down an aisle of bushes, while I'm still hanging out with the first one or two, not wanting to leave behind any hidden treasures.
Last weekend we picked berries at Butler's Orchard in Maryland. The blackberry picking was delightful. Navah and I roamed down the rows, coming as close as we can - for the moment - to how berry picking really should be. Some of my best memories of childhood are berry picking with my family - never mind the scratched arms and bug bites. My dad would take us to some big, unruly blackberry patch he found while hiking or that he passed on the side of the road one day. Armed with plastic containers, we'd dig in, stopping every now and again to proudly display a trophy-worthy pick.
By the time we got back home, I would be completely sated on blackberries. But I'd happily shovel some more into a bowl with ice cream that night and relish my happy luck at having a dad who found these little enclaves of berry paradise.
I didn't go to an organized pick-your-own-berries farm until I was an adult. Unfortunately, I rarely find a patch of berries along the side of Pennsylvania Avenue - must be something about concrete sidewalks and tall government buildings there. So I've settled for the next best thing. There are benefits, to be sure. In the first place, I know where the berries are. A quick 1-2-3 on google maps, and I'm on my way. Second, the berries never run out. Well, I suppose eventually they do run out, but it's never happened on my watch. And at this particular farm, the blackberries are thornless. Though there is a special honor in scratches sustained during the battle for a perfect blackberry, there is also the whole absence of pain factor, which has been the motivator of more than a couple decisions in my life.
So, while I will squeal with delight on the happy day that I come upon blackberry bushes in the wild while hiking or driving down the road, I've sufficiently satisfied my berry-picking desires at more organized establishments.
Until last weekend. As I've said, the blackberry picking was great. I'm totally on-board with the blackberry picking. It was the blueberries that got me. I must admit that blueberries, in general, are not my favorite to pick. Too little intrigue. The bushes are so sparse that you'd have to be blind not to see where the good fruit is. Some people love blueberry picking for exactly that reason. Not me. I try - I really do - to create a little mystery, and occasionally I do find a clumb hidden under a particularly big leaf. But my heart's not really in it. So blueberry picking for me is always more about being out in the sunshine and enjoying the meditative act of picking and plopping. Pick. Kerplunk. Pick. Kerplunk. Pick. Kerplunk.
We had never picked blueberries at Butler's Orchard before, but we could tell right off that it was, their big ticket crop.
The lot of us - about 20 - filed off the back of the tractor bed and turned toward the rows and rows of blueberry bushes. Navah and I got right down to business at some bushes a couple of rows in from the dirt road that brought us there. But within 30 seconds, a teenage boy was there. Those bushes were not for us. Woops. Turns out we had missed the instructions when we hopped off the tractor. We were supposed to head towards the young man holding up a flag at the end of one of the rows, and he would tell us where to pick. So we traipsed down the row in the direction the boy pointed and were dismayed to see dozens of other people picking and plopping. When we weaved our way through and got to the end, the young guy with the flag asked, "How many in your party?" On hearing there were two of us, he motioned toward two bushes on his right. "You can pick these two. Come see me if you finish and want more."
We got right to work. The blueberry bushes were perfectly fine. I just resented being told exactly which bushes and being sardined with all the other folks out there. I can surmise their reasoning: they're trying to prevent lots of partially-picked bushes scattered all over their fields. I get it. But it's the not the quiet, communing with nature experience that I love when I go berry picking. Instead, I was possessive - I glared at an old woman who had wandered off from her family and took a few berries off my bush as she walked by. The nerve! And I agonized over picking every last edible berry. I may have resented their strictures, but I'm also a serious rule-follower, and I felt tied not just to the rule but to the presumed policy behind it. So I left one perfectly-picked bush in my wake.
When we were finished - after talking to the guy with the flag and completing a second set of bushes - we had to head all the way through two rows of bushes to the other end of the field. There, we would hop into a tractor and head back to our car. On the way, I picked blueberries off every bush we passed and popped them into my mouth, relishing each scandalous bite.