Yesterday, I travelled to two separate farms to harvest either tart cherries or strawberries. At the first farm, as I walked up the lane, the trees glistened red and my mouth started to water. I enjoy tart cherries on cold cereal in the morning. Yum. As I eagerly entered into the copse of trees, the cherries beckoned. I skipped the first tree, a small thing with some cherries and hardly any leaves, moving on to a robust tree. The tree was redder over there. Standing underneath, I could see scads of cherries, if only I had a ladder. Not to be discouraged, this tree had easy climbing branches, so up I went. After climbing further and further, plucking ripe cherries from every branch I could reach, I started to think about the climb down. I could see that a bucket containing at least a pound and a half of cherries, would obstructed my ability to negotiate the branches without spilling the contents of the bucket. It was time to get down. No, I did not fall, nor did I drop a single fruit, but I did stay on the ground for the other three plus pounds. I tried to reach as high up into the trees as I could, knowing that people shorter than I would be wanting enjoy the harvest and there were more red cherries up high. Standing under a tree and looking up, the eye would spot a nice branch with at least a half dozen respectable cherries and that would be my target. But right next to it another branch glistened in the sun and my hands would drift to that. Soon my bucket grew heavy and I called it a day. Back at the scale, the attendant pulled out the plastic bag and weighted out the 4.8 pounds and I gasped at the quantity.
Yet, I also wanted some strawberries as the season, though much longer than the cherry season, drew to a close. This attendant gave me a box with handles and off I went. Since others were working the nearby rows, I walked down the path past row after row. Finally settling on a spot, I squatted down and inched my way down the straw covered path, checking first the left and then the right. Picking up vines of strawberries that might have some at the peak of their ripeness. Many were well past their prime. After picking some, a bright red glow would catch my eye and I moved on eventually covering about 75 feet before stepping over to the next row and working my way back. My basket glowed red as I called it quits and headed for the scale—6.2 pounds.
It was then my brain went what were you thinking! What are you going to do with 10 pounds of fruit? The rest of the day and part of today was spent cleaning, pitting (thank you whoever invented the cherry pitter) and freezing my harvest. Laboring away, it became obvious I had succumbed to a feeding frenzy. Each ripe fruit begged to be picked. Over and over again, the brain said, “Just one more before you call it quits. Ooh, there is a nice looking fruit over there!”
Today, I did some volunteer work at my old center. There is an area where about 30 plants on the Pennsylvania Species of Special Concern reside. Unfortunately, mile-a-minute has encroached on the area, spreading out over eight acres. This aggressive vine with tiny thorns is supposed to be an annual and removing physically prior to its going to seed should eventually bring it under control (seeds can remain viable for at least 5 years). Unfortunately, several years ago, no one addressed the problem and the plant went wild, so the process started all over. Today was my fourth trip this season and the second consecutive season. The first three trips this year cleaned out a significant area.
Today, the task involved working a small heavily invested area about 10 by 30 and then checking some places not checked the first three trips. After those area were done, I moved back into areas already covered. Everywhere I looked, I found more mile-a-minute plants even though I thought I had meticulously removed every plant I could find.
It dawned on me. The same behavioral pattern used to meticulously pick cherries and strawberries ensured I missed lots of mile-a-minute. In nature, animals constantly patrol the same areas for food. If they successfully harvested everything the first pass in a feeding frenzy, the result would be eventual starvation. Instead, the brain always sees the grass greener or the berry redder on the other side. So, one moves on. Undoubtedly, people who harvested cherries after I did found plenty (I watched two ladies each go out with 10 pounds). The same with the strawberries. Animals including people are programmed to keep moving on. While picking mile-a-minute, a plant over to my side would draw me to that area, but often when I looked back to where I was earlier, I had missed some. So, like any other animal, I need to make numerous trips to weed the same patch over and over again.
Many years ago, I noticed the same phenomena with litter pickups. We would send teams of people one right after the other and still would see missed trash. I knew that it was not laziness or carelessness, but natural animal behavior. I also know I am as susceptible as any other animal to “the grass being greener on the other side of the hill.”