Odd Thoughts: Berries have coloured our existence

It is entirely natural to eat as many fresh strawberries as possible – a reaction to the current plethora of delicious fresh strawberries, soon to be followed by blueberries, raspberries, blackberries… not to mention the wild offerings for those willing to brave the roads less travelled: salmon berries, thimble berries, huckleberries, and three more types of blackberries, including the invasive yet persuasively tasty Himalayan blackberries.

Ordinary people are prone to feast on them all until their tummies are fit to burst.

It comes down to where we came from: hunters and gatherers on the steppes of distant continents, foraging for tidbits left over from other, more powerful creatures than ourselves.

When those prehistoric hominids – our ancient forebears (I could never figure out why they called them “forebears” when all of the scientific literature agrees that they were apes, and the religious types swear we just popped out of nothingness directly into the current perfection that we are purported to be, according to their literature) – found something good to eat, they ate it, pure and simple.

If they could, moreover, they ate and ate and ate until their forebear tummies hurt. If there was enough food lying about to make their tummies hurt – whether it was in the form of a freshly slaughtered woolly mammoth or a patch of plump, juicy strawberries – they counted it a good day of hunting and gathering.

Any day in which they could crawl into a corner of the cave and go to sleep without their tummies grumbling loudly enough to wake the sabre tooth tiger in the next cave over was probably considered a pretty good day of hunting and gathering.

I believe that is what lies at the heart of a phenomenon experienced each year around about this time by local strawberry growers.

These are the days of busy weekends for the U-pick and farm-gate berry sales stands, with droves of hunting and gathering hominids venturing forth from the city to forage in the nether regions of the Fraser Valley on their annual quest to keep the sabre tooth tigers at bay.

Actually, the berry season has begun somewhat earlier than usual this year – even earlier than last year’s early start – owing to increasingly earlier springs and a May that was finer than its normal fineness.

The berry season will no doubt be further enhanced  by indications that our usual June-uary this year is beginning to look like an early July.

Early or late, without fail, we in the media push the oldest survival button in the human psyche when we trumpet the arrival of the strawberries with the usual warning: the season is short, so if you don’t get some now, you might not get any!

And each year, hominids are called to action by the old fear that, unless you fill up your tummy while the berries are juicy, delicious, and available, the fuel gauge might read “dead empty” before the next easy feed arrives.

In the midst of today’s plenitude, that kind of behaviour might be mistaken for greed, but really it’s just the old survival instinct resurfacing from that long-buried past filled with ravenous competitors all trying their best to prove they were the fittest.

It’s a perfectly natural reaction for human beings to stock up while stocks last. And if the stocks make it into the tummy before they make it into the pantry, some may call it decadence or over-indulgence. In fact, it’s just giving in to our true and basic nature. Those beautiful red strawberries just bring out our true colours.

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