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berries_72

This morning’s yield was worth every bit of bushwhacking. To go with them, here’s an essay I wrote a few years ago for West Virginia Public Radio:

 

My love of berry picking goes back a long way. My grandmother was famous for baking pies. Family lore has it that she baked her husband a pie for breakfast every single day of their marriage. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know this: During summer vacations at her lakeside cottage, my cousins and I had a bargain with her. If we brought her enough blackberries, we could count on blackberry pie after supper.

The best time for berry picking is the cool of the morning. I get up and put on my uniform: long socks covered by trousers I altered myself, for the purpose, with elastic at the ankles. Waterproof boots to repel the morning dew. A long-sleeved T-shirt. I grab an empty quart yogurt container and head out to the berry patch behind the house.

The house belongs to my friend Michael, who has given over his large backyard to raspberry vines. For a couple of weekends each summer, this is my paradise.

I start at the edge, but soon wade into the middle of the patch, bushwhacking when necessary. The vines are taller than I am: I’m hidden, I’ve escaped from the real world and landed in this kingdom of briars. It’s a place chock-full of smells and sounds and sensations: the fresh scent of mint leaves, growing somewhere nearby. The trills and chirps and scolding of birds all around me. The drone of a bumblebee and the whine of a mosquito. The trickle of sweat on my neck.

I love the crazy zigzag patterns of branches and thorns. I marvel at the variety of spiders and beetles and tiny winged creatures, and a kind of pink grub that curls itself into a cluster of berries, pretending to be one of the delicious morsels and sometimes fooling me.

I go for the ripest berries, dark and plump, rolling them off their stalks into my plastic bucket. Soon my fingers are stained red with the juice, and the backs of my hands, inevitably, bear little beads of blood from the thorns.

Along with this feast for the senses, the berry patch has life lessons. Progress comes in small increments, but patience pays off. Sometimes a slight change in perspective yields a new opportunity. Some prizes really are just out of reach, and you might as well let them be, but the sweet rewards you can reap are worth a few scrapes and scratches.

I carry my sweet rewards into the house. I’m not a pie baker, but I can manage a pretty good cobbler. With vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee on the side…it doesn’t get any better than this.

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