We contemplate the mystery of raspberries

When Bill and I began our annual Grandfathers' Retreats, we set up a tent at Baker Lake in the Great North Maine Woods. This is the source of the St. John River, and Canada is a few miles beyond.

To get there, we drove to Pittston Farm, a regional depot of the Great Northern Paper Co., and used that company's logging road to go into timberlands of the International Paper Co. along Rainey Brook to our campsite. Our nearest neighbor was a moose named Henri who spoke French.

On both sides of the Rainey Brook road were raspberry patches, each 35 miles long and the bushes hanging with wild fruit except where the bears had poached.

Bill and I considered this and talked about it. We also had a big raspberry shortcake that evening with what Bill called Schlagsahne, but is really whipped cream. This proved popular with both of us, and we had the same several times during our visitation. How does nature go about planting raspberry beds like that?

The deep woods are not hospitable. If you expect birds, you'll be disappointed. Bird food is scant, and birds like to eat. The "floor" of heavy timberland is shaded and mossy, with not a raspberry bush in sight. If you see a bird, it will be an owl, a hawk, an eagle, kinds that don't eat berries.

An easy answer to the raspberry conundrum is, "The birds brought the seeds," but logic asks, "What birds?" And where would birds, if any, find so many raspberry seeds?

But let the timberland owners strip a piece of the north woods, and the next summer the cutting is a jungle of new raspberry bushes. How come? Bill and I ate shortcake and wondered.

Understand, please, that just because you are miles into the untamed forest, there is no excuse for missing the joys of civilization. True, we used a biscuit mix and had aerosol whipped cream, but we had a pail for mixing the dough and a reflector oven to set against our campfire.

We also had a folding table and chairs, played good music on a short-wave radio, had wildflowers in a vase, and a crystal service including the relish bowl. We found our raspberry shortcake a decent follow-up for beefsteaks, French-fried potatoes, and other things that make roughing-it a great pleasure.

We did hear a noise while we were picking raspberries, and looked up to see a bear and two cubs we had disturbed while they were picking raspberries a few feet away. Actually, we didn't fill our pail and our stew-pot, as we had plenty when half-full, so we left enough berries for the bears.

So now it was evensong in the serene beauty of the wilderness, and we were back at Baker Lake, full of our generous supper. We sat by the embers of our fire and listened to the limbs crack as the blackflies settled into the towering trees for slumber. "Always wondered," said I, "where the seeds come from that plant raspberries on stripped land."

Bill said, "However it's done, 'tis well done." And I said I was reminded of my great temptation in the wilderness, except that it was blackberries. Bill said to go ahead, as he thought he'd nod and digest a bit before turning in. I confess as follows:

My grandfather bought a 40-acre woodlot at Skunk's Misery, six miles from his home farm. It was reached by the remains of an old road rather much lost in the woods. Next to his, Lou Jack owned 40 acres of old-growth white pine. I used to go with Gramp on bright winter days to cut hardwood, and we'd always look over and admire the stand of timber on the Jack lot. One year Lou Jack sold his stumpage, and the pines were harvested. Gramp said, "Give it two years, and you'll have the best 40-acre berry patch in Maine!"

And it was so, but blackberries instead of raspberries. Gramp was right. Where had the seeds come from?

Beside the remnant of the road by the stripped land was a church. It hadn't been used in decades, for there was nobody living around-about to use it. I was blackberrying and I walked over. It was open, and had not been visited, I judged, since it was abandoned years ago.

The peaceful serenity was palpable. There I was, alone with the Almighty, with two pails of blackberries on His doorstep while I meditated within. Let me say merely that we had a good visit. The air was stuffy and there was utter silence in the wilderness. And in that wilderness, I, too, was tempted.

On the pulpit of the little church, on the rostrum, was a great Bible. A huge book, it lay open as if the preacher had been looking at it and turned away forever. I approached to see.

It was a handsome volume. The type was oversize, so it could be read easily from 10 feet back, and it must have cost a bundle even a century ago when money was money. Something deep down tempted me in this solemn moment. It was a still small voice, and it said, "Steal it."

But I didn't. It was bulky, I had two buckets of blackberries, and I was afoot. Also, stealing a Bible did seem a bit downright. But I could have stolen it and I resisted temptation.

Had I stolen that Bible, I would have saved it from the collapse of that little old church and the forest fire of 1947.

I told this to Bill at Baker Lake that evening, and Bill said, "So where do you suppose the seeds do come from?"

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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