When you think of August in Maine, what picture does your mind paint?
I had been anticipating the turn of the calendar page and thinking about how I’d welcome the month. To me, August in the North Maine Woods means blueberry picking and the start of the end of summer. It’s bittersweet.
In continuing with my summer goal of checking out the local hikes around Chewonki Big Eddy Campground, where I live and work, I decided what better way to welcome the blueberry month than hiking to Blueberry Ledges.
Depending on how much time you have or how much distance you want to cover, this hike offers options. One can access the Blueberry Ledges Trail from Katahdin Stream Campground, located in Baxter State Park (more time and greater distance), or you can start at the southern boundary of the park, near Abol Bridge on the Golden Road (shorter option).
I don’t fare well in the sweltering heat, so to make my walk in the woods enjoyable and not a sticky, sweaty mess, I decided to make it an early morning and I got to the trailhead parking lot by 7 a.m.
The first quarter-mile of the trail is shared with the Appalachian Trail, and August is also a busy month for thru-hikers. Starting all the way down in Georgia, these folks hike nearly 2,200 miles to reach the northern terminus at Katahdin. It’s really special to run into a thru-hiker on the trail.
The trail soon came to a distinctive split. This particular fork looked so quintessential — there was a bench there simply asking for you to sit and ponder life. I was tempted but I had some blueberry picking to do.
The trail climbed gradually through a stunning birch forest and the first rays of morning light spilled through the white birch bark trees.
After hiking for about a mile, the trail started to open up and I noticed blueberry bushes, I knew I was close. Soon after, I reached the ledges.
There was a rock cairn at the opening to the ledges and then the area became mine to explore. Being someone who likes to stick to a well-defined path, my mind didn’t quite know what to do or where to go.
I wanted to take in the views and blueberries as quickly as I could. I zigged and zagged and hopped around from low blueberry bushes to high blueberry bushes.
The sun was rising and I was warming up. I slowed down and caught myself.
Why, at this beautiful, quiet place, was I rushing around and acting in a hurry?
I put my blueberry container down and looked around.
The open ledge area was so unique. Katahdin Stream flowed over the smooth granite rocks, pooling in perfectly round pockets before cascading over the next ledge. I knelt down and dipped my hands in the refreshing water, watching my fingers create a disturbance in the moving water.
After hopping around the ledges, I got back to picking blueberries, albeit at a much slower pace.
While picking I thought of all the other people who would be sitting in the same spots, collecting these tiny little fruits nature offers. Bears love them, too. Would they be strolling through as well?
I thought back to last summer when I read “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
She writes of the honorable harvest. Kimmerer shares that, while foraging and harvesting, we should ask permission and listen for an answer. Take only what we need and use everything we take. Leave some for others and share. Harvest while minimizing harm, use it respectfully and never waste. And always give thanks for what nature gives us.
Thinking of her words, and looking at my container of blueberries, I decided to put the lid on.
Before returning down the trail, I spent the last few minutes sitting quietly with my eyes closed. Feeling the warm sun on my face, I listened to the flowing stream nearby and thought of the hundreds of blueberries that surrounded me.
I was grateful for this early morning hike and the opportunity it gave me to appreciate slowing down (a common theme in all my hikes) but also acknowledge how much nature has to offer.
So, as we come into the beginning of the end of summer, you might find yourself in a blueberry patch. As you pluck the tiny fruits from their stems and think about the blueberry pancakes you might make back at home, I hope that the time offers a chance for appreciation and an honorable harvest.