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The clock is a-tickin' on olalliberry pickin'.

By Kat Lynch

BERRY picking without poison ivy? Definitely a first for me. Driving down the dusty, winding roads past fields of berries to Watsonville's Gizdich Ranch, my mouth waters and my fingers twitch--whether in anticipation of picking or memories of scratching, I'm not sure. Once there, I eavesdrop for instructions. "Pick the darkest and the shiniest ones you see," a grandmother tells her squealing grandson. For my first olallieberry-picking excursion, I listen, excluding the light saber sound effects.

Undaunted by the gray skies, adult pickers work diligently on every boulevard of berries. Having settled on a row, I pluck the berries from the vines and listen to them plop at the bottom of my rapidly filling bucket. The excitement of berry picking as a child comes flooding back as I quickly scan for the best-looking olallies and avoid the tart bright red ones.

"Nah-uh! I found the most and the biggest," a child taunts a sibling from a few rows over. Children from each family compete. They race up and down the aisles of green, red and black with buckets as big as their heads.

"No, Grandma, the best way to do it is pull down." A rustle of trees and a light, cool breeze commands everyone to relax and enjoy the day. At the end of the row, the vines of olallieberries and boysenberries stretch as far as the eye can see, hills looming in the background. Small, red-stained hands carefully pluck the dark berries from under the leaves without mashing them--too much. Another voice from the other side of the hedge speaks up. "Put them in the bucket. You're the best berry-picker, man." I silently disagree; my mouth-to-bucket ratio has to be better than his.

"No! Don't touch your ... shirt." Spiky leaves, bright red fingers and a mother's failed warning remind me to be more cautious. Not caring, I look around and pop one in my mouth. The bright, tart explosion of flavor is the formula for an instant grin. Grandma wants the darkest and the shiniest for her olallieberry pie, but those will be long gone before they ever reached the kitchen.

Unfortunately, all my olallieberries are out of my reach on the drive home. However, shared with friends, 2 1/2 pounds of berries disappear especially fast--but no problem. I'm going back for more.

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