I picked elderberries at Dave Humphrey’s place yesterday. My eldest son came with me and picked a few berries as well before the mosquitoes became too much for him. After Dave was gracious enough to walk him back to the house, I spent an hour or so alone in the woods, following the elderberry bushes as they followed the stream. Along with the berries, I managed to find a wild turkey feather and two nests for my son’s eclectic and ever-expanding nature collection. The sun was lowering but not yet setting, and I finished just as it was casting through the big maple beside the lake. It was the first evening that I could smell autumn.
Last night and much of today I spent picking the berries from the stems, a process so tedious that it is virtually impossible to buy elderberries commercially, despite how wonderful they taste. Customers would simply never pay the real cost of pulling all those little berries from the stems with the gentleness required to keep the berries from bursting and the stems from coming with the berries. I had something like half a bushel to pick, a matter of almost ten hours. This kind of labour can only be justified by a pie, or, to be more precise, by several pies and a substantial batch of jelly.
Tomorrow I will make jelly, bake pies, and fill the house with elderberryness. It will hold the aroma of a passing summer and a ripening fall, the scattered light of a descending sun through a solitary and giant maple, and the stained fingers of ten hours of picking berries from stems. There will never have been anything exactly like it before in the history of the world, and there will never be anything exactly like it until the end of time. It will be entirely and irrevocably irreplaceable.