No, I didn’t get outside to play the bagpipes today. Despite the break in the two month spell of crappy weather, a rare sunny day in the Vancouver area did not tempt me to break out the pipes and burst into song (or tunes). Instead, I set aside today to do one of the activities that I consider to be the surest sign that summer has arrived – I picked strawberries.
My U-Pick strawberry field of choice is the Ellis Farm, on Westham Island, in Ladner (1/2 hour from Vancouver). Once you cross the 100-year old bridge (celebrating its centenary this year) you enter a fertile and bucolic farming community, with tractors mowing silage and hay in the fields, neighbours waving to each other on the road, the smell of great soil and folks from the city escaping to a country-side heaven to pick strawberries that are bursting with colour and taste. The breeze coming off Georgia Strait is fresh and clean, the swallows and other song birds fill the trees and frogs chirp from the ditches along the roadways. Aside from the consistent drone of planes and jets coming and going from nearby YVR (Vancouver International), it is indeed an escape to a bit of paradise.
Two hours, and 48 pounds of strawberries later, I paid Susan (who had welcomed me back to her field) packed my containers safely into my vehicle, grabbed a fresh coffee, slipped a Rawlins Cross instrumental CD into the car stereo and headed home with pipe music blaring before rush hour traffic ruined an otherwise perfect day. Berry picking-day always reminds me of my late father, J. Ronald Chisholm. In years past, while us kids relaxed on the beach at our Nova Scotia cottage, he would throw on his big white Tilly hat and head out to pick strawberries at the local U-Pick. It was, to him, the epitome of summer, and a relaxing way to spend a hot afternoon, despite the minor discomfort of bending over the strawberry bushes.
I come by my love of strawberry picking honestly. Before I was old enough to work, my mother would gather together all her children in the cottage (usually five or six) and herd us onto the roads near our cottage to pick the small, sweet wild strawberries. Many a complaint was raised about the early hour, the heat, the bugs and the amount of time it took to fill a small cup with the tiny berries. Nary a complaint was heard in cold February when my mother would open a jar of wild strawberry jam – the smell and taste filling the kitchen, and reminding all of us of those hot summer days that seem so distant.
Tonight, I’ve washed and will start packing my small treasures once they are dry. I’ll freeze them, and in mid-winter in dreary Vancouver, I’ll open a bag, and once more be reminded of this warm, wonderful June day when I smelled the fresh air, listened to the birds of Westham Island and took advantage of the bounty, beauty and handiwork of a generous God.