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It's the Berries
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As I continue my quest to roll back the wilderness of my backyard by putting names to vegetation, I've finally identified the Mock (or Indian) Strawberries that have been decorating the grass since late spring.

At first I mistook the plants for wild strawberries. From a distance they look the same. Closer examination, though, revealed that while the leaves and vines are very similar, the red berries are bristly, seedier, and lacking in the familiar strawberry smell.

Although too dry and tasteless to appeal humans, they're apparently tasty to animals. I've seen crows and woodchucks harvesting them. I watched a squirrel making a leisurely feast, repeatedly nosing around in the grass to find a berry, then sitting on its haunches to nibble at the treat held in its paws.

For my own part, I was disappointed they weren't wild strawberries. Coming upon anything uncultivated and edible outside is a bit of a thrill. Does it remind us of our foraging past?

When I was a kid I knew where to find the untended berry bushes in the nearby fields and patches of woods. I preferred the small black caps and raspberries to the larger, blackberries with the seeds that stuck between your teeth.

One year, when Mary and I lived in Rochester, the raspberries along the abandoned railroad tracks a couple blocks from our house went wild. We carried away several grocery bags full. We never again saw the berries in such profusion.

Years before that, in a corner of the tiny yard of a house I rented, a gnarled gooseberry bush clung to life. It looked like it had been there since Roman times. Each year the sparsely leafed, skeletal branches, managed to bring forth a handful of round, translucent berries.

Even more exotic were the berries I discovered while accompanying my dad on trips to haul garbage to the the local dump. Beyond the smoking landfill, just inside the woods, in the light shade of saplings and birth trees, wintergreen covered the ground, red berries bright against dark evergreen leaves. I was amazed. To me wintergreen meant chewing gum or Life Savers. It was strange to encounter it in a natural state.

There's a berry I've never identified. I only remember seeing it in one place, in the straggling weeds near the edge of a scrubby patch of woods a few yards away from the house where I grew up. There were black caps and raspberries nearby and the bush looked the same. The mysterious berries were the size, shape and texture of black caps but light orange in color and with a mild taste defined mostly by their unfamiliar, perfumy fragrance.

I haven't turned up a photo or description on the Internet that quite matches my memory. Perhaps they were golden raspberries and I'm not recalling them exactly. It's been a long time since I've seen them.

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