You know that silly saying about “eskimos have 1,000 words for snow?” I would have thought the same thing would apply to Oregonians and their berries.
As we wandered the seemingly endless rows of fruit-baring bushes at Smith Berry Barn in Hillsboro, we came upon one sign after another announcing berry varieties we’d never heard of. SILVAN BERRY. KOTATA BERRY. CHESTER BERRY. It was like wandering the halls of a berry lover’s Shangri-La. Surely, there was a guide to making sense of the flavor differences in these varieties.
So, later at the front counter, Hailey asked the clerk about a jar of Tayberry Jam. “What does Tayberry Jam taste like?”
“Hmmm … Tayberry,” she said.
So there you go.
For our first morning in the Willamette Valley we had driven up into the Chehalem Mountains to stock up on my favorite food on earth: raspberries. They were in season, and they would be cheap (thanks to us doing most of the labor). Our plan — OK, my plan — was to pick enough to last us an entire week: 5 pounds? 10 pounds? I could easily get carried away.
I wanted them on my Cheerios every morning. I wanted to nimble on them with a glass of Pinot Noir at the end of the day. I wanted to snack on them on the beaches at the end of the trip. Back at home, I can’t help but pay $4.99 a package for out-of-season raspberries — that’s how desperate my love for them is.
But before we had even started picking, the sky coalesced into rain showers. We took cover under a tree by the chicken pen, where Varenna could feed the hens and roosters from a nearby dispenser of anonymous brown crunchies. It would clear, we’d pick and get scratched by the brambles, and then another band of showers would return, sending us back to the chickens. But we were delighted; it was a welcome reprieve from the blistering heat, and for me, the washed-out sky created fantastic opportunities to photograph the farm’s bounty.
Without direct sunlight, I could capture the even colors of plump berries, or a row of six-foot tall sunflowers, or the shadow-free countenance of my daughter as she did what any four-year-old would do in such a place.
But it wasn’t without its challenges.
Here is the thing about berry patches: they’re a mess. Raspberry bushes grow in all sorts of directions, their canes densely twisting on top of each other, their leaves folding over into funny shapes. Individual berries are small, and don’t provide much of a focal point. (Oh, and let’s not forget about the thorns).
Blackberries offer a bit more spacing, but at first glance, they too are not much to look at. It wasn’t until I crouched very low and shot up into the washed out sky that things started to click. This same angle worked well for Riesling grapes in Germany last fall, and with the shot below, it got me thinking: maybe I should create a whole series of shots like this. It could be an exhibit at a gallery, simply called Ripening.
Soon, I was trying the same treatment on the farm’s blueberries and pears, and later — at the orchard where we were staying — plums and apples.
In the end, we got our haul of berries, but it would only last a couple of days.
As it turns out, I have serious competition for berry-snacking ….