Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Maine Gazetteer: blueberry barrens

The sight of a green box of blueberries always throws me back in time. Some fields near our house in Owls Head used to be occasion for perfect outings with my young daughters. We bent and groaned and happily complained about bugs, picking our several quarts for a taste at lunch and the special glory of a blueberry pie for dessert. I felt that particular joy in accepting what the earth freely gives, not taking greedily but celebrating happily. I know my daughters remember those mornings as fondly as I do, when for a week or two we lived quietly, slowly, closer to nature. I hope they will also remember, now that the town has plowed under the blueberry bushes to make way for a cemetery, that images and loving traditions will survive even bulldozers.
 The love of the land will survive, that is, as long as the rich, slow, ancient way of life is preserved somewhere. In Maine, it is the huge barrens of Washington County east of Bangor and Ellsworth, where the glacial deposits of sandy soil are the perfect substrate for growing blueberries. It’s a complete way of life up there, not just a few weeks a year. The operations have gotten bigger, machines creep in, marketing councils bloviate, but the principles remain the same: family companies, hand labor, minimal “engineering.” Washington County is also one of the poorest places in the country as defined by Federal poverty levels; but thanks to the wild blueberry and remoteness and astounding, undeveloped beauty, perhaps not poor in spirit.





Excerpted from Saving Maine: A Personal Gazetteer

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