John,” I said, “this is perfection — brilliant blue skies, the silver whipped-cream clouds I love, the spicy smell of sun on junipers, an incredible view, cooling breezes and—billions of berries!”

We were taking a week’s holiday up north. A perfect day for hiking had us putting away our fishing poles and taking off for Blueberry Mountain. It was not really a mountain but a lofty, craggy hill with buckets of blueberries waiting to be picked at its top. I am a consummate picker of everything — rocks, stones, shells and feathers on beaches; blueberries in the northern hills; blackberries in the old deserted orchard nearby; wild strawberries in the ditches.

As a teenager, I also picked Alberta rosehips for our California mother, who always found a Vitamin C source no matter where we lived. She made gorgeous, brilliant orange sauce to be taken each morning by the teaspoonful. The nasty taste wasn’t the worse thing about it. The rosehips had teeny tiny caterpillars in them, too small to be removed before cooking! “A bit of protein won’t hurt you,” was mother’s comment.

This time, in Northern Ontario, we hoped to pick blueberries. We three, my hubby, myself and our youngest son, Joel, started up the trail, taking along drinking water, empty yogurt pots for berries, and enough plastic bag strips to attach to a few trees along the route: I was afraid of getting lost on our way back. We didn’t get lost, but I collected more than blueberries on that mountain top.

It was a hot trail through the forest at the base of the hill. We took our time. The wet fall days had encouraged a prolific amount of mushrooms to show their faces. The unique forms and brilliant colours amazed us and made for many stops along the way. I loved to pat the soft-to-the-touch pillowy moss clumps which abounded. Added to the music of the birds was the clicking of my camera. Under a large tree which had fallen across the path, I posed John on his back, under the tree, looking as if he was trapped — an exciting photo to show at home!

The previous year, our friend Jerry helped me pick mushrooms— quite an adventure. Jerry had collected mushrooms in his home country of the Czech Republic. He taught me how to identify the boletes, which, I can tell you, are large, solid, easy to find, and delicious. Gathering and gathering, I just couldn’t stop; it was fabulous. Old screens found under the cabin served excellently for drying the mushrooms over the cabin wood stove. I had bags of dried mushrooms to take home. Proud? You bet!

But, evidently, several types of boletus mushrooms can cause a reaction in some people. In my greedy hurry to get as many mushrooms as possible, I must have picked a few of the less friendly variety. I know this because when we got home with our precious findings, I went to the hospital, literally covered with hives from top to toe. The triage nurse (they never seem to show any reaction to any patient) said, “Oh, you poor thing!” Along with taking Prednisone, I had to throw away all, yes, all the mushrooms. Bags of them. Broke my heart.

But this time, during our stay, we planned to pick blueberries, not mushrooms. We continued along the path up Blueberry Mountain, where the pointy deer tracks we saw were exciting, but the large cougar tracks brought on frightened singing. No cougars materialized. I imagine it was my squawking voice that kept them away while John, with his sweet baritone, gave me a free concert.

Meanwhile, the soft forest path slowly turned into stone; forest trees gave way to scrubby bushes and scrawny evergreens. Our pathway now traversed large areas of exposed granite bedrock; guiding-stone inukshuks occasionally appeared, left by previous hikers. The gentle breeze continued; new smells of hot rocks and spicey junipers delighted.

Finally, breathless, we made it to the top, where we could see forever — the white, quartz-topped mountains of Killarney looked snow-capped; lakes encircled us, one with a minuscule canoe and a fisherman on it. I wondered if the paddler had caught anything. We felt wonderfully isolated, kings of the marvellous mountain, surrounded by God’s magnificent creation. But, best of all, there were loaded blueberry bushes. We got yogurt pots out of our knapsacks and began to pick. The top of the mountain wasn’t large; it was uneven and rocky, with patches of blueberry bushes.

After picking for a bit, I stopped, held out my almost-full pot to show John, put it on the ground, threw out my arms, and told him how wonderful this was. “This is perfection, just perfection and now, buckets or berries.”

“Well, yogurt tubs of berries,” corrected John.

I found a hollow about four feet deep, holding both juniper and blueberry bushes. I climbed down and felt a prickle from one of the junipers. I moved away, only to feel another one, this time a nasty poke. I looked down and realized with a shock that I was standing over an underground wasp nest and a swarm of wasps. Fortunately, I was dressed in blue jeans, shoes and socks, and a long-sleeved shirt. Unfortunately, the wasps covered my neck, face, hands, wrists and ankles (because my socks were thin).

Screaming, I scrambled out of the hollow to get away from the wasps.

They followed me.

Shrieking hysterically, “Get them off, get them off! Please get them off me!” I danced, frenzied, and repeatedly slid my open hands over my face, neck and ankles to get the wasps off.

My glasses went flying, as did my wonderful pot full of blueberries. All the while, my sweet menfolk energetically batted the wasps away.

It took some time, but finally, I was wasp-free, but not sting-free. I was experiencing escalating pain. I really, really hurt.

Breathing deeply, feeling desperate, I said to John and Joel, “Please go down the path just a bit and wait for me. I have something to do.” They obliged. They were used to odd requests.

At the mountaintop’s cliff edge, I carefully sat down, feet dangling over the precipice, the world at my feet. With a deep breath, I unleashed some bloodcurdling screams. I screamed as loudly as I possibly could, got my breath and did it again until I was hoarse. I then calmly got up, brushed off my pants, and rejoined my guys.

We took a half-hour to get back to camp, where I entered the lodge. One of the guests there was a doctor’s receptionist in Cleveland. On handing me a very, very large dose of antihistamine, she said, “That is what the doctor orders for people in your situation. Just take it.” I did, thanked her and went towards our cabin. On the way, I walked fully clothed, neck-deep into the lake, put my face into the water, and floated for a minute to cool my burning body. Then I went into our cabin, took off my wet clothes, climbed into my P.J.s and into the bed and started to shiver.

Shock, I figured and asked my hubby to pile on the blankets. The pills knocked me out and gave me a long sleep. The following day I couldn’t put my shoes onto my fat feet, and my neck looked like I was on steroids. We packed up and headed for home, where eventually, I recovered. But the worst thing? On that perfect perfect day, I collected wasp stings instead of blueberries.

 

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