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Sweetest blues

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This year's all-you-can-eat, bountiful blueberry days are behind us. Those two- and three-bucket July mornings have given into August's slimmer pickings. Still, those little morsels of sweetness continue to beckon like dewy sirens.

That's why, just a few days ago, there I was, leaning and leaning more from the fourth rung of the ladder, reaching too far. And I fell into the most comfortable thicket of inaccessible berries I'd ever treasured from afar. Some 10 feet off the ground, a blueberry patch is the domain of cardinals, sparrows and epicurean squirrels; a foraging human is not welcome in the land of actual angry birds, as their shrill calls make clear.

No one below saw my slow-motion blueberry failure except my trusty pair of black puppies. With paws now full of cascading berries on the dense, dark floor, they could hardly care. Thanks for the support, you two.

Three decades ago, I cleared a wooded area a few hundred yards from the house and planted all kinds of fruit trees and bushes. I was a back-to-the-land kid from the suburbs, so I assumed I planted them far enough apart, unaware of the blueberry bushes' prowling nature. They took, and then took over, pushing out a pear tree, surrounding a cherry tree and commandeering an underground spring. All I could do to keep up was mulch a wider perimeter around the plants.

When the gaps between the plants disappeared, I was left with 12-foot phalanxes of undaunted bushes. I lost track of the species long ago. Now I just know where the fattest berries arrive on the Fourth of July and that there's one cluster of bushes—as tall and wide as the others, mind you—that traditionally produces smaller berries. They're just as tasty, though; someday, perhaps, I'll visit with them first.

With their energy for berries waning, the bushes are in their own fall, back-to-school mode. Too soon, I'll be folding up the ladders that served us so faithfully all summer long. I'll mow the orchard one last time and start looking for curbside bags of pine straw in town. Fresh blueberry pies and Sunday morning blueberry pancakes will only be sweet memories. I'll think of the time when six people swarmed the bushes at once, gathering provisions for that last beach trip.

Every healthy plant is now producing runners a few feet from the original plant and straight up, reaching for the sun, soft light green shoots off each widely extended branch. The new shoots balance the curving, drooping old growth, still burdened with occasional handfuls of delicious fruit. With that in mind, while armed with some stiff iced coffee to thwart any curious chiggers or ticks, I pressed into the center of one thicket, my left arm pushing the thick stems aside, my right hand clutching my favorite plastic basket. I found as many volunteer honeysuckle and morning glory vines as new-growth berry stems. If the past is any indication, they'll have trouble overtaking these berries for very long.

On the way out, I stumbled on a 12-year-old concrete crocodile that used to mark the edge for my daughters. No, I didn't drop the bucket.

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