Every year without fail my birthday comes at the end of July. Without a calendar I would still know when to celebrate my most recent trip around the sun because late July is when berries are finally ripe enough to pick, here in Alaska.
As a boy growing up in interior some of my favorite memories are from this time of year. My mom and I would walk to the berry patches around our property in Slana - buckets in hand. My best intentions to put more in the pail than in my mouth seemed to always fall short. Seeing my mothers buckets filled with wild raspberries, low bush blueberries, cranberries and currents I knew that our winter larder was safe, regardless of my lack of contribution.
Back at home berries were transformed into jam, jelly, pies, crisps and syrup. My brothers and I would elbow in on our mother, vying for who got to lick the spoon, try the first bite or be left with the scrapings of the bowl. When berry preserving was in full swing we'd remove our shirts and let the berries stain our mouths, foreheads, ears and bellies - inside and out. The berry debauchery concluded with a bath and often a frantic dash to the outhouse.
I tuned 40 this late July and once again the berries are ripe. Im thankful for this seasonal infusion of plump, sugary berries and of the ritual my mother helped foster in me. My resolve to bring home more than I eat has improved some but I still have to remove my shirt and require a bath afterword.