Ruth Bass: 'Tis the season for the sweet strawberry patch
RICHMOND — You can get anything you want at the Internet Restaurant. So, if you look up bird brain in an attempt to add a new potential insult to your vocabulary, you'll at first find it's slang for a person of less than average intelligence. But if you delve deeper, you will learn that a bird's brain is quite remarkable, and your effort to say something mean is actually a compliment.
Some birds devise tools, the experts say; others, like squirrels, hide food and then, unlike squirrels, find it again. We should have realized that a bird brain might be a genius when a sparrow nested right in our strawberry patch.
When Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock was still growing strawberries, they had a mechanism that blared loud sounds to shoo away the marauding cedar waxwings. We just had netting, and it was a nuisance to lift it off, pick and then secure it again. But it seemed to work. And then, one day, a section of the row had a lot of bare stems and there, nestled under the dark green leaves, was a tiny nest of baby birds. Brilliant. Lady Sparrow had found a place where our netting provided security against predators and delicious sustenance for her family. She gave me a look when I discovered her, but she didn't move out until she was ready.
Strawberries need weeding, and we weren't conscientious about that once the berry season was over. We also weren't great about slicing off new plants and replanting them. By that time, the peas were ready and the beans were on the way. So we voted to let others grow the berries, and we'd just pick theirs.
We went to Dublin Road in Richmond and the Berry Patch in Stephentown and, most often, to Ioka where we picked to the thunk, thunk of Jiminy Peak's wind turbine and watched the cedar waxwings return to the attack as soon as the loud noises stopped. We also enjoyed one of our favorite farm families (still there, just no berries).
Now it's Mountain View Farm off Summer Street in Lanesboro where the strawberry rows stretch wide and long at a considerable walk from the shed where everyone signs in. But that's taken care of: A tractor-pulled wagon transports pickers to and fro, with next to no waiting at either end.
This year, unable to find a number in the increasingly difficult phone books, I drove up there, knowing friends had been on the weekend. A hand-written sign was hung on the chain blocking the driveway: "Closed for ripening." That's actually nice — it's not much fun to pick strawberries when only a few are ripe.
The next day they were open, the berries had been busy with their assigned task, and my six quarts were on the scale within an hour. I ate one in the field, finding all over again that few things taste better than a totally ripe strawberry that's been warmed by the sun. Lots of families pick, and quite a few strawberries never make it to the pay-out counter. In the field, parents kept saying, "Just the red ones, not the ones with the green ends, not the green ones." And from the look of the harvest, the cautions pretty much worked.
The place has some other advantages — a sweeping view of Berkshire's hills, acceptance of credit cards and, this year, a cool day with low humidity and an undying breeze. Now for the jam and some vine-ripened strawberries on cereal.
Ruth Bass gardens in Richmond. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.
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