Friday, July 27, 2018

Create summer Maine memories by visiting local wild blueberries patches by Briana Bizier

Now that it’s summer in Vacationland, are you looking to re-create a few scenes from Robert McCloskey’s iconic children’s book “Blueberries for Sal?” Preferably the scenes that don’t involve losing your child or running into a mother black bear and her cub?

Well, there’s no need to travel. You might be surprised to learn Windham and Raymond are home to a robust population of wild blueberries. Blueberry bushes love Maine’s soil, which tends to be acidic, and they thrive during our warm, wet summers.

Blueberries for Ian Bizier
You may be even more surprised to learn where you can find fields of wild blueberries to create your own idyllic summer memories. Last summer, my family stumbled on an amazing patch of wild blueberries with nary a bear in sight. The berries were so thick we probably could have raked them, and the season stretched out for almost a month. It was such a fantastic find that we ended up taking all our summer guests to that field to fill bowls with blueberries.

Where did we have this great, natural foraging experience? Under the power lines.

According to Central Maine Power’s website, hiking, bird watching, and other non-motorized uses are allowed on CMP’s corridors - which means it is legal to walk beneath the power lines in Maine. What’s more, these power lines are served by rugged roads which make perfectly acceptable trails. Just keep an eye out for any “No Trespassing” signs and respect the landowners whose property abuts the CMP corridor.

While you can find wild blueberries almost anywhere in Maine, from the edges of ponds to the middle of the forest, blueberries do best in full sun. These corridors along the power lines provide everything wild blueberries need to thrive: acidic soil, frequent rain showers, and plenty of sunshine. In fact, several types of wild berries flourish beneath the power lines, including raspberries and blackberries. Blueberries, however, are the most iconic berry to pick in Maine, and they have the added perk of lacking nasty thorns.

If you’re looking for blueberries beneath the power lines, it pays to stray off the rough roads, which tend to be lined with blackberry and raspberry bushes. Blueberries are low growing plants, so keep your eyes to the ground and look for open areas, especially along hillsides. You might also encounter some of the other wildlife from the pages of McCloskey’s book, like crows and partridges.

A berry picking adventure along the power lines can also be a very kid friendly way to spend a morning or afternoon. Children are excellent companions for blueberry picking, as they tend to be on the same level as the berries. In fact, kids will probably spot the fruits before the adults!
Of course, before you pick and eat anything in the wild, be sure you can properly identify the plants first. If you’ve never been before, you might invite a friend, family member, or neighbor who has berry picking experience.

And be sure to bring a container! If you don’t have an adorable tin pail like Sal and her mother, an empty sour cream or yoghurt container, or even a small plastic bowl, works just fine. If you’re really serious about your picking, and your children are old enough to keep from eating everything, you could even bring a few plastic bags to fill. Most of our blueberries are devoured on our hike, and the few berries which make it all the way home end up in buttermilk pancakes the next morning, but I’ve heard wild blueberries freeze very well.
Finally, picking blueberries on a hot, sunny day can quickly become hard labor. It’s best to save your berry picking expeditions for cool, overcast days. If it seems too chilly to go swimming, it’s the perfect time to visit the power lines and search for blueberries! And, as always before heading out in Maine, be sure to apply sunscreen and bug spray, and do a thorough check for ticks once you return home.

The CMP power lines aren’t quite the same as the idyllic Blueberry Hill from “Blueberries for Sal,” but I promise you’ll find enough berries to fill your little tin pail! And, hopefully, your trip to the power lines will be bear free.

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