Thursday, September 20, 2012

Philosophies of Cranberry Gathering

I went to gather cranberries on Monday. It's a Russian thing to do, gather berries. It's cool actually, there's this whole aspect of Russian culture where it's a big deal to go out to the forest and gather berries and mushrooms. Everyone knows all the types of mushrooms and berries, everyone knows places to find them outside of the city and everyone is shocked that we don't do this sort of thing in the United States.

In some ways it's really sad that we don't. I know a little about berry picking and wild plant picking. As a child growing up on the family farm I remember mom showing me where to find the raspberry bushes, picking mulberries and sucking on clover as I wandered through the fields. Although, I definitely wasn't super intense about it. I remember one time I picked and picked mulberries only to realize it would never be enough to make a pie. I make ink instead and that combined with an opened paper bag, gave me several hours of entertainment.

So I went with some of my church family to the woods outside the city where Dima knew of a cranberry bog. My favorite part was tromping through the woods too and from the bog.

Russian nature has a wildness about it, a lot like places in America's west or in Alaska, I imagine. In any case, being a nature person I was eating it up. I was felt like a five year old, tromping behind Dima and Sergei, stopping to occasionally pick a berry and eat it. Pausing to take a picture and make sure Oleg and Natasha were still following behind me.

Eventually, what seemed like a long time of wandering, the trees thinned and we started spotting cranberries. Eventually the trees disappeared completely and opened out into a large field. A cranberry field. Bog. Whatever. Let me tell you, this isn't like the cranberry bog on the ocean spray commercials either where the guy in waders is standing up to his knees in water with cranberries floating all around him, just waiting to be scooped up. This was a field of, well basically swamp. There were cranberries, but you have to find the patches. The water wasn't too deep, but you had to be careful because if you stood in one place too long, it would make movement difficult. You'd have to pull your feet out and risk the chance of loosing your balance.

But let me tell you what, bending over in a cranberry field with water over the ankles of your rubber boots focusing on nothing but the little red berries in front of you can make you think some pretty philosophical thoughts.

I decided it's kind of sad we don't do this sort of thing in the States. Because getting out into nature feels really good and it's an earthy feeling. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but gathering cranberries connects you to people, if that even makes sense. Even though the people I was with were spread across the field and we didn't talk while we gathered, I still felt connected. Connected to them, to the strangers along side us, who were engaged in the same activity we were and connected to people I've never known. Connected to Babushki who supplement their pensions by gathering berries and selling them, connected to people from past years and past times. Though my ancestors weren't Russian, there was a connection to them as well. A connection that something as basic as gathering berries creates. I thought about how important this activity was to past generations and how it's important to Russians now, though maybe for different reasons. It's connected to tradition, connected to survival. It was a good feeling.

I was quite philosophical about the whole thing for the first two and a half hours. After that, I was ready to go do something else (wander the woods anyone?) we actually didn't stay much longer than that as everyone was getting tired. So we tromped back through the woods and headed back to the city. I gave my cranberries away to friends as I didn't really know what to do with them, and customs wasn't going to let me bring them home in a preserved state, but it's alright because just having the experience and the connection was an experience in itself.

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