The Time a Bear Almost Ate Me! (well, sort of..)

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With spring and summer coming up, one of the first things I look forward to is fresh berries. Berries of any kind will do because they are all wonderful. I make them into jams, jellies, compotes, pies, quick breads, beverages – you name it. Berries can make just about any dish come alive with color and flavor.

One of my favorites is the wild blueberries of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My sweet husband will pick them for me when he goes up north to fish, and he is rewarded with my favorite wild blueberry jam, and blueberry pancakes. I make him pick the berries because I won’t. Because I’m afraid of bears. I had a way-too-close encounter with a bear when I was four years old. My parents decided to take us camping in the Great Smoky Mountains. As my dad and brothers were setting up the tent, I waited in the car. You know those great old station wagons with the fold down back? It was folded down and I was in the front passenger seat. I was in the car because I had heard from my brothers that bears were everywhere in the mountains and I didn’t want to leave the car. As I was sitting and gazing out the window wondering where all the bears were, something moved the car. I looked back, and there was a giant bear actually climbing INTO THE CAR. Not being able to find my voice to scream, I tried to hide under the seat. Now, not even a 4-year-old can fully fit under a seat, but I gave it my best shot. I could hear the bear sniffing around and coming closer, just knowing I would be his next meal. But he must have decided that I wasn’t ripe enough, or I smelled funny, so he left. My dad tried to convince me that bears were afraid of us, too, and all we had to do was clap our hands and say – shoo! Shoo??? I don’t think so. That’s for flies, not 500 pound bears.

Anyway, here’s a great cookbook on preparing berries for just about anything your heart desires. Besides the recipes, the author explains the art of picking berries, like what time of day is best, what to wear, how to find the best ones, and which ones never to eat. She explains how to preserve berries by canning or freezing, and even how to make wine. Some of the recipes include a blueberry omelet with cream cheese; blackberry brandy, strawberry fritters, raspberry flan, and cranberry ketchup. She even mentions that blueberries are the featured delicacy for black bears and grizzlies, and are responsible for the annual wildlife migration up the mountainsides. The animals appear in valley areas where the fruit ripens first and then travel to progressively higher elevations as the berries become plump and juicy.

So here is what I am wondering. How do tiny little berries fill up the belly of giant bears? Why can’t they just stick to fish? Maybe one of these days I will get my nerve up and go pick berries with my husband. And if a bear comes along, I’ll just clap my hands and say, shoo! Yeah, right..

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