I look at my little daughter and laugh, she’s a mess. Her face is covered in pinkish purple smears, she has leaves in her hair, and her knees look like she’s suffering from road rash. She starts laughing too and says “Mom, you’re so dirty and purple!” I look down at myself and realize it’s true. The haskaps are ready and that is one of the best things about summer in the Yukon.
When late June rolls around, my mind and everyone else’s, gets stuck on haskaps.We ask each other, “How are the haskaps looking? Did you check ‘em today?” Of course I start picking them too soon in my eagerness and the first bucket picked ends up being on the sour side. I admit defeat and wait for another week, letting the long days do their work to ripen the berries. The haskap bushes were planted years ago on the farm down by the Yukon River. They’re now well-established and loaded with berries. They thrive in our cool climate and are the perfect berry to cultivate here. Berry picking is a welcome reprieve from weeding and irrigating and doesn’t feel like farming. It’s one of my favourite jobs on the farm.
I divide picking haskaps into two separate activities: with kids and without!
Picking during the day involves children, friends, dogs, and a lot of snacks. The moms and kids in the neighbourhood hop on their bikes or ATVs and we make our way down to the Yukon River. The kids’ job is to be as loud as they can and they happily oblige. It keeps the bears away who lust after the haskaps as much as we do. A couple of farm dogs saunter down with us and have a nap in the shade of the berry bushes.
We settle down to pick and are interrupted constantly by cries of “We need a snack”, and “There’s a giant bear poop over here!”. A snack gets distributed and the bear poop inspected. We wish for peaceful picking. We need those berries for our sanity. Every year we say it’ll get easier; we’ll pick more and our kids will actually help. And it does.This afternoon I managed to pick two yogurt containers full, enough for a couple of batches of muffins. The kids run up and down the rows with minimal clothing on, shrieking and laughing. What could be better? The sun is shining, it’s somewhat warm, it’s summer in the Yukon, and there isn’t a snowsuit in sight.
Some years we’ve managed to time it so that we’re picking berries and cheering on the paddlers doing the Yukon River Quest. They started hours before in Whitehorse and paddle by on their 700 km trek to Dawson City. Our berry picking aspirations suddenly seem manageable when we contemplate the journey ahead of them. The paddlers enjoy zipping by cheering moms and rowdy children on the banks of the Yukon River and holler back. We question the motivation of the stand-up paddle boarders, it looks so hard. We admire the succinct rhythms of the voyageur canoe paddlers. We laugh at our seemingly impossible task of organizing our annual one-night canoe trip which takes us from Whitehorse to Egg Island with the kids. It’s a three-hour paddle.
We carefully load up our precious cargo (the berries) and make our way home with the noisy crew. Another fun-filled summer afternoon of picking haskaps is over.
Picking in the evening is a quieter, more peaceful affair. My friend and I walk down the side of the field in our bare feet, the sunlight filters through the trembling aspen and the spurts of water from the irrigation mists our faces. The frenzy of a July summer day has passed. We spot a little black bear sitting in a haskap bush, totally engrossed in filling his belly for the long winter ahead. He reluctantly leaves when he hears us. He’ll be back later when he can gorge in peace. My friend and I chit chat about everything and nothing. Our thoughts flow like the Yukon River, mostly unhindered, sometimes twirling around in an eddy for a bit.
We pick and pick and it feels good. The haskaps are big, juicy, and beautiful. I can’t get over how perfect these berries are. Our buckets are full, our knees ache from kneeling and we’re happy to be surrounded by haskaps under the midnight sun. We’ll do it all again tomorrow, the next day, until we’ve had our fix and our freezers are full.