Friday, December 13, 2013

163. Wildberries

In New York State, the Appalachian Trail goes Bear Mountain State Park. For one of the few times on trail, the path actually brings hikers through a picnic-area park. There are playing fields, a carousel, a swimming pool, a snack bar, and even a zoo. I have written about the zoo before, but I will say that it is one of the more mightily depressing places on the planet. I think the juxtaposition of seeing wild animals living in the wild for months, and then having to see them behind bars was a bit of a downer. It's like seeing a clown at the circus or seeing a clown in jail. One is creepy while the other is creepy AND depressing.

We were there on a gorgeous summer day, and the park was filled to the gills with a bunch of different summer camps out for a trip day. All the children were wearing bright neon-colored tshirts to match their pack of origin, and so that the camp counselors would have an easier time collecting them all at the end of the day. There were numerous school buses parked by the carousel, and also a few picnic tables. Whistle, Grim and I were sitting at one of the picnic tables, eating a snack and watching children carefully avoid our stink cloud.

A group of children clad in safety-orange shirts began to file onto one of the school buses.

"Look at that guy over there!" one of the kids suddenly called out, pointing across the parking lot at a tall scarecrow of a man with a patchy beard, standing waist-deep in some bushes. The man in question was too far away to hear the children, but they were all quite concerned, wondering why that strange man kept bending over and rustling around in the ruffage.

"Don't pay any attention to him," one of the young counselors said sagely as she helped the kids get loaded onto the bus. "He's just a thru-hiker. They can be weird sometimes."

None of the kids knew what a thru-hiker was. The last thing we heard as the door to the bus closed was the counselor trying to explain to a bunch of children from New York City why a grown person would choose to be a wandering vagrant.

A few minutes later, Dumptruck came running back over to our picnic table, covered in thousands of tiny scratches, but clutching a bowl full of beautiful, brilliantly red berries.

"Look at these raspberries! There are so many raspberry bushes over there!" he cried delightedly, picking up his water bottle to wash all of the cuts on his arms from digging into the thorny raspberry plants. Some of our friends from NYC were on their way traveling up for the day to visit us while we were on the edge of civilization in Bear Mountain, and Dumptruck suggested that we could save the berries and give them to our friends to impress them with how lovely and bountiful the trail was. We all agreed, and then immediately ate the entire bowl in about 3 minutes.

We surmised that our friends would be just as satisfied if we just showed them a photo of the berries instead.

We were incorrect.


Look at that face!

On a different day, I got a pretty significant sunburn on my back from spending 30 minutes straight bent over a patch of tiny blueberries, collecting an entire bowl's worth to give to Dumptruck as a declaration of my love. About half of them made it to the bowl and the other half only made it as far as my mouth. This does not mean that I do not love Dumptruck. It just means that I have terrible impulse control.

However, I am not the only one in this partnership with terrible impulse control. When we lived in New York City, sometimes I would turn around to see Dumptruck chewing on something mysterious.

"What are you eating?" I would ask, confused, and mostly wondering if he had a snack that I could puppy-dog-eye him into sharing with me. Instead, he would just open his mouth to reveal a beautiful, partially masticated purple flower. I would glance over his shoulder back down the sidewalk to see a nice little restaurant with outdoor seating and several hanging plants. These hanging plants inevitably had suspisciously purple flowers.

The first time this happened my jaw dropped and I was completely incredulous.

"You just ate a flower off of that bush?!"

"Yeah, they're edible."

"We live in New York City! That probably has the pee of 7 different rats on it!"

"Maybe," he would shrug, "but it's tasty!"

Eventually I just got used to Dumptruck snagging flowers off of decorative Upper West Side floral arrangements and jamming them in his mouth as he passed by unsuspecting doormen and went on his way down the sidewalk. However, though he offered me flowers many-a-time (not to put in a vase, mind you. To eat.) I could never muster the courage to eat something that just existed free-wheeling in my environment.

But once we got on trail, I ate all of the things. I would always default to Dumptruck's strangely abundant knowledge of flora before I would eat anything, not wanting to end up like Fox Face. Through New Jersey and New York there were endless raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and mulberries. We would often stop for several minutes at a time to graze. Each of us reaching up into branches or down into bushes, noisily stuffing our faces with the berries that would always stain our fingers and lips. It made me feel a bit like a giraffe, my tongue purple, my head in the branches of a tree, methodically eating everything in sight.

And oh, what a happy giraffe I was.

Mulberry staining

Clever Girl


  1. Too funny! Just drew stares from my fellow travelers (air travelers, not communists) when I burst out loud laughing at Gate 25 at National Airport. The thought of Dumptruck grazing his way across NYC is priceless. Love you! Mom and Dad

  2. Those raspberrys look crazy good... so perfect looking! Not like the gross slimy mashed up ones you get in stores :P