Many years ago, the City of Tacoma somehow ended up with a blueberry farm. They set it aside to be a park, but somehow, it was overlooked for number of years. The blue berry bushes grew, and those who knew about it descended on it regularly to pick berries. But the Himalayan blackberries invaded it, and the bushes, untended, grew tall and rangy, and homeless people began to camp in the deep brush, along with tweakers. Blueberry Park was close to being lost.
About ten years ago, prompted by local lady Charlotte Valbert, the city remembered the park. First her volunteers stepped in to clear and prune the bushes, and then the city itself. My daughter Ruth and I were among those who came with snips and trash bags to help prune and clean.
There was some talk of clearing the park for ball fields but fortunately wiser heads prevailed. The bushes nearest to street were, by tacit consent, set aside for the elderly and handicapped, while those deeper in the park still remain for the more adventurous. Many of the bushes have been pruned, the areas between the bushes mulched and it is much more accessible now than the first time I braved its depths with a couple of ten year olds to pick berries. But wilder parts of the park remain, and I’m actually glad it’s so. Some of the 20 acres of the park are wetlands to be preserved.
Yesterday I headed out there with my grandchildren. There are several varieties of blueberry bushes in the park, so some are ripe now while other bushes are still full of green berries. We took a big bucket for me, and juice pitchers with lids for the kids. It is inevitable that kids fall when picking berries. Over the years, we have discovered that if you are picking berries and putting them down the spout of a plastic juice pitcher, when you fall you don’t lose them all.
It was a good day to pick, not as hot as our recent days. The bushes are tall enough that telling the kids to stay in sight is not practical. So we use the method of ‘you have to be in range of my normal speaking voice.’ It works well. Periodically, I would say their names, and each kid has to respond right away.
There were a lot of families in the park. I’ve noticed that whenever I do any ‘free harvesting’ activity in Tacoma area, such as fishing or clamming or berry picking, I encounter a lot of our newest arrivals joining me. So as we moved throughout the berry park, which is quite a large area, we encountered several different languages being spoken.
At one point in the distance, I heard a woman singing a Russian song. A short time later, I heard a man’s voice sing out, “A, B,C,D, E, F, G” and then he paused. And from a scattered area around him, I heard little voices sing back, “H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P.” A short time later, I added my call out as I did a role call of my grandkids and they all chimed back. It reminded me of territorial bird calls as various parents sounded off and kids responded.
We came home with half a bucket of blueberries, enough for 2 pies and three containers of berries in the freezer. We’ll go back, of course, over the next few weeks. Who could resist free blueberries and a peaceful time out in the sun.
Only tonight I learned that Charlotte died a few days ago. I did not know her personally, but I personally enjoy the legacy that she saved for all of us. Thank you, Charlotte Valbert.