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Grim's Tales: One tool every berry picker should have

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About a year ago I had an epiphany that led me to purchase a cheap hiking staff from a local hardware and outdoors store, and I suggest that you get one, too.

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For a while before that purchase I was not convinced of the advantages of having trekking poles, hiking staffs or walking sticks. My mind was made up literally in my sleep, when I sat up one dark night and realized that hiking staffs, especially those with a crooked handle, are invaluable berry picking tools.

Since this year is proving to be a phenomenal berry picking year, I’ll share with you some reasons you should get a stick, staff or pole.

Well-known reasons include relieving weight from your legs, but I won’t go into that. Others might also think that having a big, sturdy stick in the woods would be a good idea in case you need to defend yourself. Again, I have more practical reasons for you.

First, the most obvious reason to own a hiking staff is that you can test the ground in front of you. In marshy environments, this could save your shoes. Atop a cranberry bog, it could save your life. Going up and down blueberry hills, it could at least save you from an embarrassing and unpleasant spill.

Second, I won’t entertain any notions that my little, flimsy hiking staff would be in any way an effective weapon against a bear, but it does provide a perfect platform for bear bells. I know from first-hand experience how startling it can be to be picking raspberries on one side of a bramble, only to slowly realize there is an oblivious big black bear on the other side of the flimsy bush.

God forbid you surprise it at that time. It would be better if the bells dangling from your hiking staff gave the hungry bear ample warning of your approach.

Third, for those who pick berries from ditches alongside dirt roads, a hiking staff could save you from a very itchy future. Poison ivy sometimes grows low in grassy ditches, being completely obscured by tall grass. Use your hiking staff to pull a Moses and part the grass sea to check for poison ivy before you dive in to hunt for those wild strawberries.

Finally, the idea that awoke me in the night and convinced me I needed a hiking staff is the simple fact that the densest, juiciest, ripest grapes, juneberries, chokecherries and other tree-based fruits are always at least one branch higher than you can reach. Get yourself a hiking stick with a crook on it so you can grab it by the base (only if you haven’t parted the poison ivy sea with it yet), hook it on a young branch, and carefully bend it down so you can reach the high branches.

You don’t need to go out and purchase a million dollar staff with all the bells and whistles of Inspector Gadget. You don’t need to purchase one at all! Chances are there is a passable walking stick on a tree about 10 steps into your berry-picking adventure. One thing to is consider having a hiking stick made from a branch that forks. The fork is the top of the staff because then you can use it to hook and hold those young branches.

Wild strawberries are already done, blueberries and raspberries are waning, but blackberries are going to be awesome the next couple of weeks. After that there are wild plums, then wild grapes, then cranberries, so get out there and learn why your grandparents were willing to give themselves serious back pains for the wild fruits around you. I promise it’s worth it.

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