Posted by: A Part of the Solution | June 22, 2010

Hubris in Wildcrafting

The first spring after I bought my house in Takoma Park, I waited and waited for the cherries on the ancient cherry tree in my side yard to get ripe. As I waited, the birds feasted on the stubbornly not-red fruit of the gnarled and dying tree. Not until my second year there did I figure out that the cherry tree was a Queen Anne. Those handsome cherries were never going to turn red, but would always be a rich yellow with a blush across the shoulders when they were ready for picking

On Sunday, I went around the property picking all the ripe black raspberries I could find so that our CSA members who host pick-up sites and our cherished volunteering members could have the delightful reward of wildcrafted berries in their produce bags on Monday when we delivered. I couldn’t for the life of me find enough berries to stretch them the length of my list, and had to settle for gifting them to our site hosts.

Today, I went out berrying in mid-morning—partly to act as ‘rain bait’ since some was expected though not guaranteed. I hoped my being far from the house might prompt more precipitation. We only got a few sprinkles, despite my strategy.

But I had a veritable epiphany out in our back-back field where I’d found a number of promising black raspberry stands. They had promised much, but hadn’t delivered yet. I imagined it was because they were on the west side of the field, rather than full south, and weren’t getting as much sun as other cane stands I’d been picking.

I was struck by the prodigious size of the STILL unripe raspberries, and wondered if they might have some kind of disease or infestation. Big as they were, they weren’t taking color. Many of those berries seemed to have rotted without ever turning black (or as black as black raspberries get). This is where my natural bent for hubris and my past experience with Queen Anne cherries comes into play.

Much as I know about wildcrafting, good as I am at foraging and identifying that which may be harvested from season to season, I hadn’t considered what immediately became obvious. They were yellow raspberries. They were ripe. And I’d been walking right past them for more than a week.

Yellow raspberries aren’t especially yellow when they’re direct mutations of the black raspberry. It’s only our established garden cultivars that have the honor of turning a rich, dusty golden. My yellow raspberries were finishing in a tonal range I can only describe as Mamie Eisenhower blush. Or perhaps frosted sallow peach. Or maybe fleshy buff. But not yellow.

I picked a quart of raspberries in less than an hour and a quarter this morning. Some were black. Most were yellow. And that’s where my volunteers’ raspberries had gotten to when I went looking for them on Sunday. Now I know. And now I know better. I’m a darned good forager, but there’s always something for me to learn—especially on a new tract of land!



  1. Great story! I’m starting my first year at my new house, too, and spending time learning the land and plants and animals. This weekend I learned that I need to devise a way to help toads and turtles get back up out of my window wells, and saw the biggest spider I’ve ever seen outside of a zoo. Sunday morning I was treated to the rarest sight – a big beautiful Luna moth perched on my doorframe.

    • I’ve had a Baltimore oriole swooping around between the apple tree in the front yard (no one’s told him he’s a CANOPY bird and likes 30-60 ft) and various other locations around the home acres. He’s the most special thing so far–except the exceptionally cute bright green caterpillars with the black stripes on their backs and the yellow ‘eye’ spots on their sides eating the be-whatsis out of the fennel in the upper part of the garden. A staffer saw the enormous snapping turtle that lives in our pond, but I haven’t run into him/her as of yet. And we’ve both seen masses of salamanders in our woods. Isn’t it wonderful to see all that there may be to see?
      I haven’t seen a luna moth in person since I was a little girl and lived next door to Bug Boy (also Snake Boy, Lizard Boy and Spider Boy–doesn’t every neighborhood have one creepy kid with a fascnination for things even more creepy than he is?)

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