My Hutterite friends

My parents came down from Fort St. John, B.C. and we spent some time on the nearby Hutterite colony picking berries with the women.

I’m sure my ancestors were hunters and gatherers. I’m never happier than in a berry patch with the sun on my back (and mosquitos whirring about me) – my mother likewise.

My Mom picking berries with the Hutterite girls. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

My Mom picking berries with the Hutterite girls. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The Sunniebend colony grows long rows of tart black currants, sweet raspberries, and dusky saskatoons for the colony pantry and to sell at farmer’s markets. I’ve spent some happy hours picking alongside them to fill my own freezer. There’s a lot to be said for working together as a group. Time flies as we chatter and sing, sharing stories of my life and theirs.

They ask me about life in Africa, how people live, about our work with the farmers. I ask them about colony life, their customs.

“There must be tensions in such a large group at times”, I say. We’re sitting around the crackling campfire now, the raspberries safely in pails in the cold storage.

“Yes, you could cut the tension with a knife sometimes!” one of the women laughs.

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“You have to have broad shoulders,” another says. There aren’t many secrets when people live continually so closely together. But while I am with them, I don’t feel any disharmony. The girls are relaxed, enjoying a bit of free time after a long day in the garden.

Life isn’t all just work. On Saturday the girls from another colony came to help pick black currants and raspberries. At three we broke for afternoon coffee. The girls gathered together in the shade of a big poplar tree, one brought out her guitar and already we had an informal singsong, my Mom in the midst of them.

Life isn't all work - an impromptu singsong during an afternoon of picking berries. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Life isn't all work - an impromptu singsong during an afternoon of picking berries. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

“Come to the wiener roast on Sunday night,” they insisted. And we did, bringing along some fireworks our Swiss relatives left with us. The excitement on the faces of the kids was worth every minute. The little girls wear long dresses; hair tightly braided under headscarves, the little boys in black pants with suspenders. But they are children like any all around the world. They chase each other, tease, cry, and scream with pleasure when an especially brilliant rocket goes up in a shower of sparks.

I never go home without a bag of warm buns, fresh picked peas, a jar of the black currant juice they just took out of the big kettle, or some pickling cukes. I am richly blessed – not just by the gifts, but by their friendship. I am honored that they feel the same.

Almost, when I am together with them, picking berries, sitting around the fire, drinking coffee at the kitchen table, I think I could live like this. But I’m too independent, too much my own woman. I’ve lived out in the world too long.

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