They appear the same time as the chicory blooms by the roadside: signs for Brown’s Beautiful Blueberries.
They’re tiny picket signs, hand-painted with an emblem of the fruit and an arrow -– this is how so many pickers find their way over to Arnold Brown’s back hillside.
This morning I packed some pails into the car, and, as I have for the past ten summers, followed pictures of blueberries from the paved straightaway of Route 14 onto the dirt road snaking through Collinsville and then right up Coburn Hill.
From late July to Labor Day, foodies, families, friends, and blueberry-o-philes, from all over the county and across town, pull into the Brown’s gravel drive, sign the guest log, grab a bucket and head out to the south facing hillside teeming with hundreds of mature berry bushes. Last year, a light year, pickers took a total of 15,000 pounds of berries home. The year before they hauled out ten tons!
I joke that Phil Lovely, Arnold Brown’s son-in-law, the master of berrymonies, should weigh me before I pick and then after—as I’ll easily sport an extra pound by the time I’ve totaled my buckets and paid for my external share of berries.
By noon the Brown’s hillside is abuzz and I can hear snippets of heart-to-heart conversations, “Well, I’m just not sure what to make of that news,” and hear kids calling out to Moms, “I found a Big One!” –voices carry easily across the hill. One time while berrying with a hilarious friend, another friend, coincidentally gathering a few rows over discovered my presence, “Julia, I just knew that was your laugh.”
Truth is: none of us would have discovered anything, and our muffins and freezers would be bereft of bluberries if not for an overeager man with a tractor mower. Back in the 1990s Arnold had just planted this hillside with 7500 Christmas tree saplings. All was proceeding according to plan until the man hired to cut the east field assumed “Well, Arnold would probably like me to mow the other field as well, he just forgot to ask me.”
So, here we are with our buckets, gossiping across the bushes, harvesting Plan B.