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No time for rest

There is no time for rest on the harvest, no time to lean on a rake or mop a brow.  The berries have ripened and winter is coming; will they wait if we are tired?  There will be time to be tired later.  Now we must work.

At Work



Now I have found out a fact.  This makes me wonder even more about the helicopter and the berries.  The two crates of berries that are picked up in one load weigh 600 pounds.  The helicopter weighs 1700 pounds.  The berries are 1/3 the weight of the helicopter.  This astounds me.

I had a chat yesterday with the Firefly pilot, Harry.  He arrived around 3:30, and for a while he had nothing to do.  This because his assistant, Damien, the guy who connects the lift strap on the ground to the helicopter in the air was in Wareham buying DVD's when Harry arrived at the Cataumet bog.  After a few phone calls Damien was on his way, and Harry had time to chat with a curious photographer.

Harry has been flying since the 1980's, and they were using helicopters to lift berries off the bog before he started, so the helicopter technique is almost tradition too.

Harry is not very impressed by the weight question.  It doesn't seem a big deal to him to lift the berries, swing them across the bogs and deposit them at the truck.  "You just don't make any sudden turns" he says, "you sort of let it just flow".  "Of course you don't want that rope too long, or then the leverage on the berries gets stronger and you have a problem"

We talked about the weather, about bored air traffic controllers, about how the Air Force used to fly out of Otis and the Navy used to fly out Weymouth, and, when Damien arrived about pubs on Clew Bay, County Mayo.  Somehow we just got comfortable in a little Sunday afternoon chat, and we were happy to ease it along until when Steve, the truck driver,  came over and said politely but firmly, "maybe we can load some berries this afternoon, gentlemen?" and our little helicopter chat was over.

Flying High

Berries in the Sky

Safe Landing


Picking Berries

There are two ways of harvesting cranberries, the dry harvest and the wet harvest.  The first way means scooping the berries off the low lying plants with a sort of curved comb scoop.  In the old days this was a wooden hand tool.  Now it is an automated reaping machine.  The second way means floating the berries off the plants by flooding the bogs; the berries are then gathered on the water by a boom and suctioned into a truck.

Today it is raining and nothing is happening because we are in the dry harvest.  For the dry harvest rain is no good.  For the wet harvest rain is no problem.

But for the last couple of days the weather has been glorious.  Three fields have been covered and two truckloads gathered.  It is a very very slow process.  The reaping machines move very deliberately and the workers arrange themselves in an overlapping line.  They start on the outside edge of the field, circling it, working their way to the center.  No one walks on the unharvested plants.  If a sack has to be moved or a crate carried from one side to the other, the worker carrying it will trace an elaborate arc around the outside of the field, walking 3 times the distance a straight line would take him in.

The reaping machines deposit the berries in burlap sacks, and these are left on the field as they are filled.  Each filled sack must be carried to one of the harvest boxes and poured into it.  These boxes, or crates, scatter the field with improbable gray blocks, like a giant's toys.  As they fill they are wrapped in carrying straps....but who will carry them?

The answer descends from the sky, as a red helicopter arrives to lift the berry boxes off the low-lying bogs to firmer ground where they can be loaded onto trucks.  This feels dangerous.  An attendant must hoist each box's strap up to the helicopter that descends upon him, the pilot sees his position over the box through a mirror posted on the cockpit, and as he lifts off and swings into flight the heavy weight of the box clearly affects his momentum and direction.  As he swirls overhead the heavy box swings in a wider arc -- blades, body and box retest the laws of centrifugal force.

The whole process of the dry harvest can be seen at my ongoing gallery of the 2010 harvest.

Yesterday morning, I went early to the bog because these guys start early.  But, not much was happening.  The dew was too heavy on the ground and everyone was waiting.  Some work was going on as they picked up weed debris from the field that had been harvested the day before.  Actually the biggest visible effect of the harvest is that the fields are weeded.  The ripe berries are almost invisible under their leaves...... a field ready to harvest is a field full of weeds !

Begin again

Burlap bags




Holding on

It is evening.  Clouds gather in the sky, but they are not for rain -- they are here to play with the sun as it leaves.  It is quiet because it is September and the villages have no more vacationers in them.  Boats are out of the water, early this year because of the threat of hurricane Earl, traffic is thin, and the sport fields of the schools are now where the energy of youth and hope gathers.

At the Lobster Trap some cars are clustered in the lot, close together for company, the water on the Eel Pond is flat, and the stream rushes under the little railroad bridge with its art class decorations out to Phinney's Harbor, to the Bay, and to the Sea.

It is the gathering clouds that command attention.  They soar over the Eel Pond while the sun paints them -- white to pink to dusty gray, billow by billow.  The ospreys stretch their flight to the tips of the clouds, then dive into the folds, then plummet to the water's plane with a clumsy, terrifying splash.  Somehow they survive this crash landing and sometimes emerge with a fish that they then adjust in their talons, sometimes with nothing, but as they shuffle away in flight they shudder every feather to shake off the water so they can soar again.

From the railroad tracks, all paths seem possible -- to Woods Hole, to New York, to Tennessee.  On this forbidden perch above the water, the view out to the sea seems to stretch and shimmer forever.  Beneath our feet the track bed holds the ghosts of trains to the Cape from generations gone away; we mourn their passing -- the travelers and the trains.

The sun lights up the sky in a different way each minute.  Shadows gather on the shore but the cloud tops burst with light and drip down to the water like melted marshmallow.  The moon hangs in the sky.  It is following the sun down to the water, but this moon grows stronger each day, full of promise.

As I gather all of this in I have only one thought.  "Hold on to this !"  "Keep this moment !"  "Do not let this summer go away........hold on."

Impossible.  The sun will set, the colors will settle, the summer is gone and it is time to reap what we have sown.

 moon over phinney's harbor


Cranberry Harvest

It is time again.  I already saw trucks on Tihonet road to the Ocean Spray plant full of cranberries, and from Route 25 in Wareham I could see graceful booms stretched across telltale pools on the bogs.  I will follow the harvest again this year.  Last year's pictures are here on my website, and a full set can be found in Essays on my website.

The crew was out in Cataumet yesterday and I found them for the first time this year.  They were clearing brush to open up a path to a sensor on a pumping station; my friend Henry, the foreman, was there, cheerful as usual fixing something -- a chain saw that did not want to start.  "Maybe we start today, I don't know, depends whether it dries out".  The chain saw would not start and got tossed into a brush heap -- perhaps ceremoniously, perhaps permanently.

I think I already have enough pictures of the harvest, but really, I do not. How could there be enough?  Just as each sunset is different, so each moment of work is different, and this is about the work, not about the bright colors, although they surely glorify the work.

There is a deep story here.  I tried to put some of it in my pictures last year, but they remain a promise, and a prisoner of expectations.  More images will help me to go deeper, but perhaps the only way in is by writing.  I have two writers in mind, but there is a third one too -- me.

If I write this story, this will be it.