THE BEST VIEW: Picking raspberries, with reptiles

by Norma Best Boucher

I have always loved raspberries. My earliest memory of the sweet seedy globules was on my aunt’s farm, in Bangor. In the summer my father and I visited his older sister’s family for a week filled with the softness of feather beds, the smell of sweet peas, the taste of fresh garden produce, and the succulence of ripe red raspberries.

I had been too young to go berry picking before that summer. Apparently, it was more work to watch me than to pick raspberries, but that year I became of age, four. With the index finger of my left hand gripping the handle of the small tin cup and with all the fingers of my right hand grasping my father’s fingers, I was off on an adventure into the Maine woods.

The year was 1951, so television hadn’t educated me. The only animals I knew were dogs that bit, cats that scratched, and an array of bugs that did God knows what. I was a typical city girl about to be introduced into the wild.

My father, my aunt, and I walked for what my short legs felt was forever but for what my imagination thought was a second. I was introduced to chipmunks, to birds, to wild flowers, to fallen trees, and to peace.

I never got the hang of berry picking that summer because I saw an unidentified bug on a bright red fruit and refused to touch any other berries. I did behave, though. As long as they filled my cup with juicy berries, I stood quietly and contentedly in one spot watching them and eating one red berry at a time.

In a short time, they exhausted the area and moved farther away. I stayed on my spot to avoid the scratchy bushes, but I never lost sight of my father. As soon as I had eaten that last berry in my cup, my father refilled it, each time promising me there were no bugs.

My aunt eventually moved much farther away, and I heard her voice fade into the distance.

Becoming more relaxed with my surroundings, I began to take in the sights – trees, birds, and new sounds. Quite at peace with the world, I reached into my cup for another berry. As I did, I looked down past the cup to the ground.

Just then a long, slender, green creature slithered across the top of my bright red canvas sneakers. I let out one long, loud, blood-curdling scream. In the distance I heard the sound of my aunt’s yell and an avalanche of gravel.

Of course, my father ran to me first, and after calming my tears, he explained that I had seen only a harmless snake. Even today the words “harmless” and “snake” are never used by me in the same sentence.

Back then I stuck out my pouted lips and begged to be carried. I decided then and there that my feet would never again touch the same ground as that “harmless snake.”

Carrying me, my father set off to find my aunt. We discovered her at the bottom of a gravel pit. Hearing my shriek, she had lost her footing and had slid feet first, stomach flat all the way down to the bottom.

After relating my episode with the reptile, they both laughed hysterically and did so for many years later with the memory. Only later in life did I fully grasp the humor of the situation.

I enjoy daily walks now but on the side of the road. Lately, I have seen red raspberries ripening. With no one watching, I walk into the brambles and pick a handful of berries. They are just as sweet as on that first day in the woods at my aunt’s farm. Each day I take a handful noticing that others are doing the same. Soon they will be gone and a cherished memory will fade with them.

On those daily walks I continue to look for the chipmunks, the birds, the wildflowers, the fallen trees, and the peace.

Oh, yes. I still look for the bugs on the raspberries…but never, never do I look down for that “harmless snake” in the grass.


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