North woods folk can be a crafty sort. They have their prime berry picking spots, secret fishing holes, and best places to harvest wild mushrooms. But don’t ask them to part with this knowledge. They won’t.
Uncle Ben was the consummate northlander. Practically blindfolded, he could lead you to the most amazing places in the woods. But he wouldn’t. That wily old woodsman kept that knowledge locked up tighter than a tick’s butt.
Not even mother (whom he adored only second to dad)could get more than a vague wave to the north when asked where to go for berry picking.
Which left her undeterred. And occasionally lucky.
There were plenty of wild berries to go around. From wild raspberries, blackberries, blue berries, strawberries, thimbleberries, to choke cherries, generally there was something worth picking.
Left to her own devices, mother was more than up to the challenge. She would grab a shiny metal bucket from the garage, and lose herself for hours in the woods.
One afternoon, she struck gold. She had ventured about a mile from the cabin when she came across clumps of blueberry bushes nestled just off the trail with fat, ripe berries clinging to the branches. This was an untouched patch. A veritable honey hole. Mother could now lay claim to her own secret spot.
Now there is an aspect to this story that mother may not want revealed. I am not sure why as I think it adds a certain cachet to her personality. As previously reported, mother was a nature enthusiast who soaked up every aspect of her time in the north woods. So it wasn’t surprising that on that day…on a hot, hot summer afternoon…deep in the north woods… a million miles from civilization…(you know where this is going..right?), mother decided to work on her tan without the benefit of a shirt. Perfectly acceptable under the conditions. Her modesty well preserved among the flora and the fauna.
With the sun on her back, the berries bursting in front of her, mother lost herself in blueberry heaven.
She wasn’t alone.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is home to approximately 16,000 black bear. The female bears range from 100-250 pounds. An adult male measures roughly five feet high when standing upright. He can weigh between 150-400 pounds. Black bear are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. But for the most part, they tend toward the vegan lifestyle dining on plants, insects, acorns, nuts, and BERRIES.
So naturally it wasn’t just the northlanders who knew where all the hot berry spots were, the bear were equally tuned in.
They also didn’t like to share.
Mother’s first inclination that something on that brilliant sunny day wasn’t quite right was when her faithful companion, Susie-the-dog, growled and fled for home.
But with the berry pail filling up, mother was dreaming of blueberry jams and jellies. She had wandered into the thick of the patch with scrubby berry bushes circling all around her.
With back bent, she picked berries by the handful.
It was only when a slight shuffle behind her broke her reverie that mother became more aware of her surroundings. Pausing for a moment, she heard the shuffle again. A scaly finger of fear crept down her neck. Someone or something was definitely behind her.
With a thumping heart mother turned around to find herself practically shaking hands with a black bear.
The two stood about twenty feet apart. Both with the same goals. Both excited about the berry patch. Neither willing to share. Someone had to go.
Mother sternly informed the bear that it was first come, first serve. “You go on home,” she firmly told the bear. “Go home now!” The scolding continued. “Turn around and march right back into those woods!”
The bear appeared to waver.
Mother held her ground.
She pointed to the woods.
The bear looked sideways.
Mother stamped her foot.
“Move!” she demanded.
The bear appeared to sigh.
Two things worked in favor of mother that afternoon. One the bear did not have cubs and (two) bears are generally not aggressive toward people and normally steer clear of them.
That bear took mother’s words to heart. Cowed he turned and ran deep into the woods. Mother didn’t hesitate. Gripping her precious bucket of berries, she raced back to the cabin leaving the bear to the berry patch. Her plaid sleeveless blouse still hanging on the branches.
After that…we often joked about coming across a bear in a plaid shirt, but it never happened.
UP NEXT THE TRAVELER!
Carolyn's note: The Cabin Chronicles is an ongoing feature on my life growing up in the Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Each week I will be posting several new chapters on stories that will surprise you, stun you, and hopefully make you laugh and cry! To read past chapters, go to the heading entitled Blog on the top bar of tswails.com and click on the Cabin Chronicles. Hope you enjoy!)