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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 !

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