When the nights have turned cold, the days dry and crisp, the mornings occasionally sparkling with frost, and the foliage near its peak of color, it is time to seek cranberries.

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The memory of an unmarked pull-off over a tidal creek, a canoe, two kayaks, paddles, tall boots, and a large basket was all we needed. We began our paddle upstream as the tide just started to ebb, trying to recall from years past just how tidal this creek really was.

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We leapfrogged up the creek with a chatty kingfisher seeking food, appreciating the bright oranges, reds, and yellows that seemed to have emerged overnight to juxtapose the lingering greens of the pines, spruces, and firs. We pulled up to shore where the landscape seemed flattest and searched beneath the tall, now golden, rushes for the sprawling, tiny-leaved plant whose red spherical fruits we sought.

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Cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon

We found some, but the quantity was not inspiring. Knowing this to be a popular area for cranberry picking, we paddled on, assuming that most people had already picked the closest cranberries to the launching spot. Our instincts proved correct: nearest the mid-sized shrubs interrupting the expanse of rush-punctuated mud flat were cranberries. We spread out, still within comfortable speaking distance, and began our work of picking the variety of cranberries we found. Some were still mostly white with just blushes of red, others were red with blushes of purple, and some were pure cranberry red. They even ranged in size from as small as a hefty wild blueberry to as large as a dainty grape.

With four pairs of hands picking for about an hour, including

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A funnel spider’s web

interruptions due to observations of a large juvenile bald eagle and intricate funnel spider webs (seemingly guarding the largest and lushest patches of cranberries), we picked nearly three quarts of berries.

We paddled back, appreciating the other lives engaging in the same preparations for winter: trees consuming the last of the nutrients they can absorb from their leaves before dropping them, a white-tailed deer eating the last green leaves before moving on to the woody inner bark available regardless of snow cover, and kingfishers and herons consuming as many fish or frogs as they can find to give them the energy they will need for the cold months ahead.

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To learn about some of the uses and benefits of cranberries and their unrelated namesake, the highbush cranberry, check out my post about them here.

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