Blueberries for Sal, as retold by Jack London

(Disclaimer/spoiler alert: My wife recently bought Robert McCloskey’s classic book for my son’s first birthday;  I had never read it before and, even as I delighted in the story and its illustrations, I couldn’t help but catch glimpses of a naturalism narrative here and there in the text.

No children (or bears) were harmed in the making of this parody.)

 

Blueberries

The chechaquo meets Mother Bear.  Via.

One day, not yet winter but with the the chilly promise of winter in the air, little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries.

Little Sal brought along her small tin pail and her mother brought her large tin pail to put berries in.  “We will take our berries home and can them, said her mother.  “Then we will not die of starvation this winter when the animals we usually kill and eat have denned up to hide from the cold.”

But little Sal did not heed her mother’s advice.  She picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail, kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! but then kept eating the berries she picked–even the ones in her pail!  “My mother is a womanish old woman,” Sal thought to herself.  “I have been cold and even hungry before.  We will not starve!”

Her mother walked slowly through the bushes, picking blueberries and putting them in her pail as though her survival depended on each and every one of them.  Little Sal struggled along behind, picking blueberries and eating every single one.  She even ate blueberries out of the pail her mother carried!  “We might starve to death this winter, but I won’t starve today!” Sal thought.

Her mother stopped picking and said, “Now, Sal, you run along and pick your own berries.  You must bring food back to the house, or Mother must leave you behind.  Mother wants to take her berries home and can them for next winter, and we will both starve if you eat all of yours and mine, too.”

Sal became tired of walking and sat down in the middle of a large clump of bushes and ate blueberries as though winter would never come, let alone become snowy and cold.  Her mother, seeing that Sal was lazy and weak, went off to pick more blueberries, abandoning Sal.  She briefly thought about returning to build a little fire for her, with a small pile of sticks to feed the flame, but she decided against it.  “It is not snowy and cold, so she does not need a fire,” Mother said.  “Sal has blueberries to eat for as long as she is able.  She will not suffer for a long while, here alone on the hill by herself.  I will not starve, at least!”

On the other side of Blueberry Hill, Little Bear came with his mother to eat blueberries.

“Little Bear,” she said, “eat lots of berries and grow big and fat.  We must store up food for the long cold winter.  And if you see an animal to chase and kill and eat, call me!  Fresh meat is ever better for us!”

Little Bear followed behind his mother, stopping now and then to eat berries.  But what he really wanted was to see an animal to chase and kill and eat so he could become big and fat in a hurry!

Little Bear saw no animals, so he picked out a large clump of bushes and sat right down in the middle and ate blueberries.  Meanwhile, Mother Bear, thinking him lazy and weak, abandoned him.  “It is not snowy and cold,” she thought. “Little Bear has berries to eat for as long as he is able.  He will not suffer for a long while, here alone on the hill by himself.”

Over on the other side of the hill, Little Sal ate all of the berries she could reach from where she was sitting.  She looked all around and realized her mother had abandoned her to die.  Feeling the will to survive surging deep within her, she started out to find her mother.

She heard a noise from around a rock and thought, “That is my cruel, hard-hearted mother walking along!”

But it was a mother crow and her children, who had just realized they were too early in their search for animals dead from hunger and started to eat berries instead.  They flew away, saying, “Caw, Caw, Caw.”  Then Sal heard another noise in the bushes and thought, “That is surely my mother, and I will go that way and make her feel ashamed of her cruelty in having abandoned me to die.”

But it was Little Bear’s mother instead.  She had forgotten all about Little Bear, whom she had abandoned because of his laziness and weakness, and was eating berries and thinking only about her own survival and storing up food for the winter.  She would not starve, at least!  Little Sal–a newcomer on Blueberry Hill, a chechaquo without imagination and thus foolish and ignorant of the dangers of being on the hill alone–tramped right along behind.

By this time, Little Bear had eaten all the berries he could reach without moving from his clump of bushes.  He looked all around and realized his mother had abandoned him to die.  Feeling the will to survive surging deep within him, he hustled off to catch up with his mother–but she was nowhere to be seen.  He heard a noise from over a stump and thought, “That is my cruel, hard-hearted mother walking along!”

But it was a mother partridge and her children, their feathers turning white before the snow had fallen and making them easily visible to animals who like to eat them–like bears!  They stopped eating berries and hurried away.  Then he heard a noise in the bushes and thought, “That is surely my mother.  I will hustle that way and make her feel ashamed of her cruelty in having abandoned me.”

But it was Little Sal’s mother instead!  She had forgotten all about Little Sal, whom she had abandoned because of her laziness and weakness, and was picking berries and thinking about canning them for next winter–thinking only about her own survival.  Little Bear–a newcomer on Blueberry Hill, a chechaquo without imagination and thus foolish and ignorant of the dangers of being on the hill alone–hustled along right behind.

Little Bear and Little Sal’s mother and Little Sal and Little Bear’s mother were all mixed up with each other among the blueberries on Blueberry Hill, all watched by the same all-seeing, indifferent, soon-to-be-exceedingly-cold eye of the universe.

Little Bear’s mother heard Sal walking along behind and thought it was Little Bear and she said, “Little Bear!  You decided you want to survive!”  munch, munch.  “Eat all you–” gulp, “can possibly hold!”  Little Sal said nothing but picked three berries and dropped them, kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk, in her small tin pail.  She had decided she did not want to starve this winter, after all!

Little Bear’s mother turned around to see what on earth could make a noise like kuplunk!

Garumpf!” she cried, choking on a mouthful of berries, “This is not my child!  Where is Little Bear?”  Even though Little Sal looked as though she would be easy to catch and kill and eat, Little Bear’s mother felt the old fear of people rise up in her and so did not chase her.  Instead, she turned around and walked off very fast to hunt for Little Bear.

Little Sal’s mother heard Little Bear tramping along behind and thought it was Little Sal.  Little Sal’s mother felt glad that Little Sal had decided she wanted to survive after all, and she felt a little sad for having abandoned Little Sal to die.  Still, she said nothing to her. After all, she had acted in accordance with the law of life, as had Little Sal in deciding she wanted to live.  Instead, she kept right on picking and thinking about canning blueberries for next winter and sharing them with Sal instead of eating them by herself.

For a moment, Little Bear thought about chasing and killing and eating Little Sal’s mother, but he saw how big she was and decided not to, and then excused his cowardice by saying to himself that she would be too old and tough to enjoy eating.  Instead, he padded up and peeked into her pail.  Of course, he only wanted to taste a few of what was inside, but there were so many and they were so close together–and he also remembered his mother’s instructions to eat all he could–so he took a Tremendous Mouthful of them.  “Now, Sal,” said Little Sal’s mother without turning around, “I am glad you are here (though I am not sorry I had abandoned you to die), but if you do not want me to do it again, you must run along and pick your own berries.  Mother wants to can these for next winter so we will not starve.”  Heedless of the hunger of others, though, Little Bear tasted another Tremendous Mouthful and almost spilled the entire pail of blueberries, causing a flash of anger and fear in Mother’s heart.  She did not want to starve, and Little Sal’s greediness might cause it to happen.

Little Sal’s mother turned around and gasped, “My Goodness, you are not Little Sal!”  Now, filled with guilt and shame for having abandoned Little Sal to die, Mother wailed, “Where, oh where, is my child?”

(Little Sal had been right about her mother after all: Womanish old woman!)

Little Bear, fully intent on surviving the winter, just sat munching and munching and swallowing and licking his lips.

Little Sal’s mother, the ancient humans’ fear of bears rising in her, slowly backed away from Little Bear.  Then she turned and walked away quickly to look for Little Sal.

She had not gone very far before she heard a kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!  She knew just what made that kind of a noise.  And in that noise she heard the sound of her survival–and Little Sal’s, too!

Little Bear and his mother went home down one side of Blueberry Hill, eating blueberries all the way, and full of food stored up for next winter.  Little Bear’s mother felt sad that she had not chased and killed and eaten Sal so that she would have a story to share again and again and again with Little Bear that winter,  but she was still glad that Little Bear had decided after all that he wanted to survive.

And Little Sal and her mother went down the other side of Blueberry Hill, picking blueberries all the way and talking about how they had not been chased and killed and eaten by bears, and drove home with food to can for next winter–a whole pail of blueberries and three more besides.  Little Sal now understood that her mother had become old for a reason, and so had picked berries with a new, strange urgency rare in children because she now wanted to become old too and keep on eating and telling the story about not having been chased and killed and eaten by bears.

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