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.)



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!”

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(Disclaimer: One of my Comp II students has chosen to write his film analysis paper on Koyaanisqatsi–the first time a student has written on that film.  (I give them a list of about 50 films from which to choose; all the Qatsi films are on it.) Thus, Godfrey Reggio’s lovely, haunting, non-narrative film has been much on my mind of late, and today I remember this thing from long ago that I’d written at my old blog, with my dog as its protagonist.  It still makes me laugh, and maybe it will make some of you smile, too.)



(with deepest apologies to Godfrey Reggio, Ron Fricke, and Philip Glass, and with many thanks to Megan for inspiration.)

A horizontal line of red dots and dashes against a black background.  Glass’s haunting organ piece plays, and a bass profundo chants, “KoyaaniScruffy.”  The dots and dashes gradually lengthen vertically into the TITLE.

SCENE: Desert petroglyphs
Solemn, totemic-looking figures, charcoal against reddish-yellow rock.  The camera pans back very very slowly.  Same music.  The camera reveals one of the figures to the right, bent down, swatting at an animal humping his leg.  As the animal comes into view, the bass profundo resumes chanting the TITLE.

SCENE: Aerial views of Monument Valley
The music continues, the chanting stopped for the moment.  We see nothing moving at all for as far as we can see, as the camera shows us shot after lingering shot of these magnificent formations rising abruptly from the desert floor.  This sequence goes on for at least a couple of minutes.  Finally, far away but in the foreground of one of these shots, we discern a small cloud of dust in the desert.  The camera moves in slowly, ever so slowly; as we get closer, we can gradually discern a gangly wirehaired dog on his hindlegs, pirouetting about within a dust-devil.  The bass profundo chanting of the TITLE resumes.  This should be shot in the slowest of slow-motion.  Close-up of the dog; we can see his mouth agape, his tongue dripping with saliva, the happy and/but crazed look in his eye.  The viewer should feel a nameless, soul-numbing horror, as though s/he is seeing a riderless Horse of the Apocalypse.

The remaining sequences in the film reveal Scruffy to be omnipresent: contemplating rivers of clouds from the summits of mountain peaks; contemplating real rivers as they turn into waterfalls; then, in scenes shot in New York and Los Angeles, frenetically chasing cars, running amok among commuters in subway stations, urinating on fire hydrants as little kids play in their spray, etc.  Two extended sequences are of special note. In the first one, after we see several large, abandoned public-housing projects come crashing down, the dust slowly clears from the last one we see, revealing Scruffy with a single brick in his mouth, trotting away happily, stopping to urinate on an abandoned swing set and sniff at a McDonald’s bag blowing about.  The other, shot inside an Oscar Meyer packaging plant, shows Scruffy watching, patiently watching, as we watch hot dogs being packaged by machines, then suddenly snatching one of the packages off a conveyor belt and merrily running about while workers chase after him: in part an homage to the famous chase scene in the factory in Modern Times, no doubt.  The workers never catch him. He is too fleet, too agile. More: he is simply beyond them. It is as though he is a will-o’-the-wisp, a desert djinn come to wreak havoc on a secularized world turned blind and, thus, vulnerable to the spirit realm’s machinations.

SCENE: Brightly-lit kitchen.
Same organ music as at the beginning of the film.  Tight shot of an empty dog food bowl, Scruffy’s snout sticking into the frame from the left.  The camera slowly pulls back. Scruffy slowly looks up, licking his lips (this sequence is shot in excruciatingly slow motion).  From the top of the frame, a cascade of dry dog food pours into the bowl. The viewer trembles as s/he realizes: some human agency gives sustenance and shelter to this wire-haired Cerberus??  Monstrous.  Perverse.  The food ceases to pour.  Scruffy watches, then looks down.  The TITLE is chanted once, twice.  At the third chanting, as if on cue, Scruffy suddenly plunges his mouth into the food bowl, causing some of the kibbles to fly up as it they were droplets of water.  The camera isolates on one of the kibbles, higher than the others, slowly spinning in the air as it descends, the kitchen light glinting on its surfaces, revealing its golds and reds as it turns, turns.  It lands on the floor, rolls, stops.  We watch.  The music and chanting continue.  We watch, watch; then suddenly a blur as Scruffy erupts into the frame to eat the kibble and just as suddenly disappears.  The music ceases; the scene goes dark; then . . .

CLOSING SCENE: Desert petroglyphs
The camera is tight on the petroglyph showing the dog humping the figure’s leg.  We are left in silence to ponder this image and ask ourselves, What have we learned?

What, indeed.