It was mid-July when I first learned about wild raspberries. We were camping, camping all together on our summer family trip to Bemidji State Park. The hot afternoons we spent out in the boat together, whipping the intertubes in circles and pulling the skiers in straight lines. Cool mornings Mom liked to get us out biking. There were mixed feelings about hopping on our bikes in the midwest humidity, but our motto was “Everybody gets a turn doing what they want.” Mom, Josh, me and sometimes Josiah all wanted to bike.
My parents took the lead and the tail. Mom biked ahead with Josh, competitive nature in full force. I did my best to keep up despite a slight nagging sympathy for Josiah and Kiara, younger legs biking slowly in the back with Dad. We went single-file down the winding paved path; Josh and I weaving side to side and attempting to break each other’s records of Distance Ridden With No Hands. Eventually our family caught up with us, all but Dad and Kiara. I turned around, volunteering to find where they’d gotten hung up. Sitting still at a junction in the trail galled me when we ought to be moving.
Dad was stopped by the side of the trail. Kiara struggled up a hill behind him.
“Dad! What happened?”
“Wild Raspberries,” he said with a sly smile, and popped a red berry in his mouth. His knowledge of the outdoors had identified for him a treasure we all missed; his voice identified the warm pleasure that filled him whenever he spent time in the woods.
“Really? Are they good?” I’d never harvested any fruit out of the wild before.
“Try some.” He handed me one, and bent over to pick more. They were good. I began to pick them with Dad, leaning over with my bike held upright between my legs, the front wheel turning heavily towards the trees. Kiara caught up and sat beside the road, eating the berries we shared with her. Soon the rest of the family trickled back and called us sly names for not telling them about the sweet gems we’d stumbled across.
Every year after that, I paid attention to what month it was when we camped at Bemidji. I found ways to quiz Dad quietly, asking him whether the raspberries would be ripe yet. If they were I hung back from my usual fast-paced riding. I’d race Josh across the bridge, attempt to ride with no hands between the vehicle-prohibiting metal gates on the trail, hold my breath to keep from panting while I tried to be the first one up the hills. But when we came to the large aspen grove, white trees in their haze of golden-green light stretching out between the ferns, I’d drop back – “to check on Dad and Kiara,” I’d explain with a shrug, perhaps just a little too innocent.
We’d spend a few minutes eating all the tangy plump raspberries we could reach from the trail, scheming quietly how long we could stay before the others would turn around to find us and deplete the amount of berries we could each eat.
Grant and I walked around the lake at camp one evening when we first moved up here. He told me again the story of how he and his co-counselors were told to weed the areas between the boulders of the damn, and then suddenly chided when the property manager discovered they’d pulled up not just the weeds, but all the wild raspberries. We laughed together comfortably. I looked down the sides of the damn at the small stiff bushes poking up between stones. The raspberries were certainly coming back well.
The longer I live at camp, the more raspberries I discover. They grow along the trail up to Raven’s Craig, they grow between the boulders that pile high beside the road. Raspberries bloomed in springtime along the walk down to the dining hall and behind staff housing and on the trail that led back to Halfway Meadow. Now they’re ripening.
We walk around the lake again, this time with little Erik on Grant’s back. I linger, slowing down Grant’s long strides across the open back of the damn. There are raspberries to pick. Nostalgia warms me; I put a raspberry in Erik’s mouth. He grimaces with the burst of tang, and then smiles widely around the sweetness. I shape a memory in the sunshine, saving it for us to taste again next summer.
Every time I find a dark red raspberry, ripe and ready to eat, I remember eating those first wild berries with Dad. I hear the excitement that crept into his voice when he taught us about the woods he loved. I remember learning about the trees from him. Mom quizzed us on our trees by tickling our noses with their leaves, making our homeschool learning fun. Dad taught us from the heart of him; there was no tickling, only a deep love of all things wild that made his knowledge gold and transformed the woods into holy ground.
It is mid-July. I try to remember all the places I’ve noticed the rough shapes of raspberry leaves over the spring. I wander back quietly, hoping to find and collect the sweet red memories before everyone else catches up.