By Greg Clark, August 3, 1935
“What I like,” said Jimmie Frise, “is blueberries.”
“I’m with you,” I assured him. Strawberries are very nice, if they aren’t sandy. But they give me hives. Raspberries are good, if they haven’t got little white bugs creeping about them. And raspberry seeds get between my teeth.”
“Thimbleberries,” contributed Jim, aren’t bad, but it is hard to get a feed of them. I like a feed of wild berries.”
“The wild strawberry,” I took on, “is probably the finest wild berry in the world. The French-Canadians preserve them.”
“Yes, but give me blueberries,” said Jimmie. “I don’t mean blueberries you get in the city, with the blue down all rubbed off them, and looking kind of damp. I mean blueberries you pick yourself and eat right out on the rocks.”
“I follow you,” I assured him.
“They are so tight in their skins,” said Jim. “They burst, they pop in your mouth.”
“Like celery, sort of,” I helped.
“Not at all,” said Jim. “Nothing like it. They are alone, unique, unequalled. Tight in their skins, with that cool, downy powder on them, and a kind of faint wild spicy flavor.”
“That’s it,” I moaned. “Faintly spicy.”
“Not rough and harsh, like Oriental spices, but a delicate Canadian spiciness,” said Jim. “Dear me, excuse me, my mouth is watering.”
He got out his handkerchief and attended to himself.
“The thing I like about them, too,” went on Jimmie, “is the way they burst in your mouth, a whole big handful of them.”
“Do you like the bright blue ones or the darkish, blackish huckleberry kind?” I inquired.
“Well, it’s hard to choose,” agreed Jim. “The dark ones often have a rich spiciness, yet on the other hand, the bright blue ones have a kind of tang. I don’t know.”
“The bright blue ones,” I pointed out, “are lovely to come on when you are wandering around on the rocks, blueberry picking. You walk along, looking here and there, and then all of a sudden, in one of those big cracks or crevices in the rocks, you see a whole hedge of little bushes that are a vivid sky blue.”
“The Jesuit Relations say,” stated Jim, “that in the olden days, away back in 1600 and something, the Indians used to pick great bushels of blueberries and spread them out on the rocks to dry and then pack them in big birch bark sacks. In the winter, they would use these dried berries to eke out their dog meat and pounded corn porridge.”
“I prefer to think of going somewhere this afternoon,” I submitted, “and picking about two quarts of blueberries and eating them right there as I pick. I’m blueberry conscious.”
“There’s no place handy where we can go on short notice,” Jim thought. “Wonder if there are any blueberries this side of Muskoka or Parry Sound?”
“Would you be game,” I inquired, “to take a run up as far as Midland and hire a boat and go out to one of those rocky islands that are fairly covered with blueberries?”
Doing Something Silly
“Do you mean in the middle of the week?” Jim exclaimed. “That would be silly.”
“Everybody ought to do something silly once in a while,” I offered, “like loosening those little twisters on the end of a banjo handle, so as to relax the tight wires. We’re full of tight wires. Can you think of any silly thing to do that would be as pleasant as driving up to Midland and hiring a little boat and going somewhere to bulge ourselves with blueberries?”
“This heat is getting you,” suggested Jimmie.
“I’m full of tight wires,” I said. “I’m going to reach up and loosen those little tighteners. I’m going to do something silly. And it might as well be pleasant.”
“I could go,” said Jim, “and think. Us artists have to do some conceiving. We ought to be free to run off and hide now and then to invite our souls.”
“The same with writers,” I agreed. “You can’t make a flower grow by walking out very day and yelling, ‘Grow, damn you, grow!’ can you?”
“Artists and writers,” said Jimmie, “are just like flowers. The heat gets them.”
“How about it?” I demanded.
“How long would it take?” asked Jim.
“If we drove to-night,” I said, “we’d be there in three easy hours. Sleep in the car, right in the tourist camp. Rise with the lark, drive down and hire a little launch for a couple of bucks, and scoot half an hour out across the lovely morning water…”
“That’s done it,” said Jim.
“Spend from, say, seven or eight o’clock till noon picking and eating berries,” I said. “Then the boat picks us up by prearrangement and scoots us back across the lovely water to Midland, we hop in the car, and saturated with that noble and patriotic berry, we drive home to Toronto, arriving about 3 p.m., much to everybody’s astonishment.”
“What would we say?” asked Jim.
“We’d say we slept in, or something,” I offered. “Or maybe in this heat nobody would have observed our absence.”
“Well, I guess,” said Jim sleepily.
And before the five o’clock whistles had stopped blowing in the suburbs, we were pointed north for Midland. And the sun was still high when we arrived in that pleasant town. Under the long, lingering sunset, we watched the boats coming and going and observed all the white-clad summer resorters so busily coming and going, probably driving their launches fifty miles for a package of phonograph needles or a camera film. So busy. So intent.
And with the floating sounds of summer in our ears, we folded ourselves up in Jim’s big car and went to sleep. Dawn and a cramp woke us. We took no breakfast, though the light was still burning in the Chinese restaurant as we drove down the street to the docks. The man we had hired the night before was sleepily waiting for us in his little putt-putt. It was just a row boat with an engine in it, but it could not have been better.
Gaily Across the “Open”
“If it is blueberries you want,” said the boatman, steering out into the bay where we could look far across the shining “open” of the Georgian Bay, “you ought to go to a point I know where I take my folks on picnics. It’s up from Beausoleil Island a piece. It will cost you a dollar extra, each way. But it has more blueberries than any other I ever heard of hereabouts. The Indians never picked berries on it because it was supposed to be haunted, or something, and they never went near it.”
“Take us there,” we agreed.
There are cottages on nearly every point of the Georgian Bay, but far in through the channels we came to an inner point, a withdrawn and rather rough and homely point where there was nothing but rude, jagged rocks and burnt-over woods and dead trees sticking up in all directions.
“Here she is,” said the skipper. “Not very handsome, but lousy with blueberries.”
And with promises to return a little before twelve o’clock, he putt-putted noisily away.
We scrambled up the rowdy rocks. Literally, the point was burdened with blueberries. Maybe three hundred yards this point juts out from that vast and practically uninhabited mainland of the Party Sound country of rock and scrub and little hidden lakes and beaver meadows. A blueberry paradise.
“Jimmie,” I said, between munches of the first handful, “don’t let us start right here. As a couple of old blueberry pickers, let us survey the land and find one of those mossy crevices hedged about with two-foot blueberry bushes where we can actually recline at our ease and pick and eat without moving except by either crawling or rolling over.”
“I know the kind of place,” agreed Jim. stooping for another fistful. And so stooping and pausing and staring and walking, we surveyed the point. There were rock gullies and little rock cliffs, little clumps of woods and sheltered spaces all clad in deep bronzy green moss. And around those little clumps of bushes and along the shady margins of those damp mossy carpets the blueberry bushes were massed and dense. And they glowed with a million fat jewels of dusky blue.
“Let’s start here.” cried Jim, finding a little island of birch and pine about the size of a street car, which was entirely surrounded by a ten-foot margin of mass. And the hedge of bushes around the copse was like a belt of azure.
“This is the place,” I admitted, kneeling down on the moss.
“You take this side,” said Jim. “I’ll go around to the far side.”
And around he vanished.
“How is it over there?” I called.
“Just about the same as your side,” said Jim.
There were both kinds. The higher bushes were the bright blue kind. And hidden in amongst the taller blue bushes were the squatter bushes of the big, succulent, black huckleberry. You would take three handfuls of the blue and follow with one of the black. Some of the black ones were as big as grapes.
“Um-yum,” I said, loud enough for Jim to hear.
“Slurp, slurp,” said he. I use the word slurp. but it hardly conveys the astonishing and slightly disgusting sound Jimmie made as he picked, unseen by me, on the far side of the little copse.
“Mind your table manners, Jimmie,” I said.
“Swush, swush, swush,” retorted Jimmie, from beyond the bushes.
“Boy,” I said, “you ought to come around to this side.”
“Whoosh,” replied Jim.
I thought how curious it is: you know a man for years and years, and all of a sudden he comes out with some curious and hitherto undetected habit.
“Jim,” I said, through a full mouth, “it may have been funny the first time you smacked your lips like that, but it is getting a little on my nerves.”
“Squish, sqush, slurp, whooof!” retorted Jim.
“Aw, cut it out,” I retorted, and hinched myself another yard along the hedge. Ah, such berries. Now I was abreast of a three-foot-high dense hedge that positively sagged with the vivid blue ones, big as alleys, clustered like grapes, cool to the touch, cool and firm and thin-skinned.
“Ah, yum-yum,” I confessed, making a little racket myself.
The sun grew warmer. I began to fill up. I could hear silly old Jim working his way around to meet me. And he was slurping.
“Jim,” I begged. “For goodness sake. You’re awful.”
It was at the next hitch I took of a yard further along the bush that I saw Jimmie was wearing a fur hat. I was mildly surprised, because at the moment my eyes were gloatingly beholding surely the greatest blueberry bush ever seen in the history of Canada. It was four feet high, it was laden, as if with blue dew, and deep within its stems I beheld the darkly glowing shapes of scattered huckleberries of size I had never seen before. My mind was divided between these two spectacles – the greatest berry bush in the world, and Jim wearing silly fur cap in the middle of summer.
Finally, with a sudden tiny tingling of my scalp, I withdrew my fascinated mind away from the berry bush in deal exclusively with Jim’s fur cap.
And I saw, to my intense astonishment, that Jimmie’s fur hat had movable ears.
“Not To Endanger You”
I stood up.
So did the bear.
With its short front legs held quaintly before it, and its head cocked on one side, it surveyed me across the bushes.
It was a youngish bear. It was about my size. It was glossy black, with brown ruchings, and its mouth was slightly open in a friendly grin. Frothy blueberries fringed its deckle-edged lips.
“Er-hello?” I said.
“Squish, squish,” replied the bear, swallowing. I could see it was not as surprised as I. I was not wearing a fur cap.
“Where’s Jimmie? Mr. Frise?” I asked weakly.
“Mmmfft,” said the bear, cocking its head on the other side.
“Yoo-hoo, Jimmie?” I inquired, not very loudly.
“Sniff, sniff,” said the bear, looking away to one side, as if not knowing exactly what to do.
“Oh, Jimmie?” I repeated, just a little louder. “Are you there?”
The bear looked at me again, and I detected a more serious expression in its small, twinkling eyes.
“Nice berries,” I said, conversationally. I was backing slowly across the moss to where my boots, hat and coat lay piled.
The bear disappeared by dropping on to his four feet. I backed more quickly. The bear appeared at the corner of the copse and again stood up. His stomach hung very low.
Without removing my eyes from him stooped and fumbled for my boots and clothes. I continued backing.
The bear was now looking, with an expression of immense satisfaction, at the very large patch of berries I had discovered at the same instant I had discovered him.
I half turned and backed quartering away.
The bear dropped down and sat, as I had sat, before that shrine of blue. I turned and ran. In my stocking feet I ran, careless of the hot and ragged rock. Up a cliff or two and down a couple of gullies I scrambled. Looking back, I could see the bear sitting. like a schoolboy, before that feast of blue.
No sign of Jim. I felt badly to have left him. Where could he be? Had he tired of the plenty and gone wandering farther inland? I decided to avoid endangering him with shouting. I decided to go right out to the end of the point and wait for him.
When I came to the rough headland of the point, there, on the outermost pinnacle of the rock, ready to jump into the blue Georgian Bay, was Jimmie, looking fearfully up at me.
“Jim!” I accused. “You left me without a sign of warning.”
“He came out of the bushes just as I left you to take the other side of the patch,” said Jim. “So I just went right on walking.”
“You did, eh?”
“I decided not to endanger you by shouting,” said Jim.
“You did, eh?”
“I decided to come out here and wait for you,” said Jim.
So we both waited, right out on the very little and point of rock, until the boatman came for us at twelve sharp.
Editor’s Notes: The Jesuit Relations are chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France, written annually and printed beginning in 1632 and ending in 1673.
Beausoleil Island was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2011.
This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).