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'The Wild Marsh,' by Rick Bass (excerpt)

After twenty years of listening and watching and hiking around and hunting — twenty youthful years, no less — we’re starting to learn some things about this valley. We’ll never know enough, or even a fraction of what we’d like to; but we know, for instance, or believe that we know, where the wild strawberries are sweetest, in the tiny little lanes and clearings no larger than a house, where little patches of soft, filtered, damp light fall down from the midst of the old-growth
larch forests, little clearings where the snowshoe hares come out (despite the protestations of timber company biologists who say the rabbits, and their primary predators, lynx, don’t live in the old forests) to nibble on those new sweet berries, in July.

Late in July, we like to try to get into some of those patches just before the legions of rabbits do, and pick a little basket of berries. The girls have a tiny doll’s basket (the berries are no larger than the nub of a pencil eraser, but contain more sweetness within them, concentrated, than an entire bushel of the supermarket mega-irradiated jumbo giants), and because I’m red-green colorblind, I can’t find the tiny strawberries and have to rely on the girls to do the harvest.

They’re delighted by my weakness, and by their sharp-eyed superiority, and delighted also, as junior hunter-gatherers, to be providing for me. We all three have little baskets — in the dimming blue light of dusk, I absolutely can’t find a single one — and from time to time the girls take pity, and come over to where I’m searching, down on my hands and knees, and drop a few into my basket.

And as is their habit, they eat far more than they pick, not even really hunter-gatherers but more like wild animals, feasting in the moment, letting their bodies do the hoarding rather than jars or cabinets — the girls more a part of the forest, in that manner, in that moment — and by the time it is too dark to see well and we walk back toward our truck, our baskets have barely enough strawberries to drop into our pancake batter the next morning. But they will be memorable pancakes, and it will be enough.

Excerpted from by THE WILD MARSH by Rick Bass, copyright © 2009. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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