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Chokecherry Haul & Notch

Just wrapped up chokecherry harvest and canning season last night without any severe injuries or scalds (but not without quite a few ouches, yelps and several exclamations of Well shit, that was a stupid thing to do!). Picking between thunderstorms during daylight, only once being caught out in a storm before getting safely back into the house, evenings and nights were spent juicing and canning the berries up while nighttime storms lazily rolled through. It has been the most pleasant season so far since beginning this annual tradition twelve years ago.

I could keep going and am sorely tempted to do so. Heavy clusters of fat berries are still ripening to deep purple-black perfection on thousands of bushes in the canyon which I don't really need to touch. Better to leave them in place at their maximum state of nutritiousness for consumption by local wildlife. My haul still feels a tad greedy, though. One hundred thirty jars of jelly and more than two gallons of syrup and enough berry pulp to make two dozen jars of jam later this fall. Plenty for sharing with family and friends, the remainder lasting through winter and well into next summer, all gathered from patches within 150 ft radius of the house–my rightful territory as a wilderness dweller here too.

A bear I've named Notch (because of his right ear) is still coming around in wee hours of the morning to sniff and scratch at my smelly garbage cans. A single word mumbled out the upstairs bedroom window scares him right away. Besides a bumper crop of chokecherries, he has plenty of other stuff to eat. Gambel oak thickets are dropping acorns by the ton and there are gobs of moths hiding under rocks everywhere (as well as coming into the house when window screens aren't closed before dark). Grasses and tubers are plentiful after so much rain too. The photo below was taken in early June just as monsoon rains began falling while Notch was still pretty thin, as his bony hips indicate. He has plumped up a lot since then but has evaded my camera lens for an AFTER shot.

Notch appears to be a scrappy bear. In addition to the ear, he's sporting a long scar on his snout just below his right eye. So I stayed alert at all times while picking berries, finding several piles of seed-packed bear scat near almost every patch I visited, both fresh and not so fresh. Any sounds of approaching wildlife or agitated chuffing noises would have set me beating a fast retreat out of the area back to the house.

Fortunately, though, we've been able to give each other plenty of space to both live here without issue, prepared for approaching winter with bodies well fed and larders well stocked. I'm hoping to see Notch again, if not between now and hibernation time, then sometime next spring.

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