After posting up the recipe for Blackberry Dumplings, I went back to the berry patch to pick more wild berries. Returning to the same patch, I was determined to pick only the blackest, plumpest, ripest berries. At the first picking, I had been so excited to find ripe berries, that I picked berries a little prematurely. However, since that first picking, we’ve had hard rains, coupled with days of sunshine in between, and now the berries have had time to fully ripen. While picking this time, I learned that if my shadow falls across the berries, they appear darker than they really are. So I made a conscious effort to pick them in the glaring sunlight.
When I picked berries as a child, I wasn’t really worried about snakes and other vermin, and I never wore protective clothing. When I pick berries now, I wear socks, tennis shoes (or boots), long pants, long sleeves, and carry an ice cream bucket. Two weeks ago when I first stopped to inspect the patch and snag a few for snacking, a friend drove past, rolled down her window, and shouted, “Don’t go getting snake bit picking berries!!” Well, thanks. I hadn’t intended to go and get snake bit. With her warning in mind, I remembered to bring my shovel after that.
On this particular morning, using the shovel to shoo away any unwanted company, I eased my way into the berry patch, picking from the edges first. The darkest, sweetest berries ripen in the shade of the vines or very near the grass. They are also the hardest to reach, and I have the thorns in my fingers, thumb, and hands to prove it. The back of my hands always get scratched up, and I have just learned to endure it. I don’t wear gloves, because I like to feel the berries as I pick them.
Determined to pick a bucketful of only the blackest and ripest berries, I plucked off those that offered no resistance whatsoever. If the berry didn’t pop right off, I left it for the next person, the next picking. As I squatted and picked the fat fruits, I thought back about picking berries as a child and realized I now do it because it has become part of my culture. And in carrying on the culture, I add another link to the chain connecting the generations.
The size and all the varying shades of color set forth by the berries this morning inspired me to set forth in words what I was experiencing. As I looked at the thick carpet of vines lying in front of me, I tried to mentally form the right words. I reflected on famous women writers of the past who wrote so eloquently, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and wonderful story tellers like Marjorie Kinnan-Rawlings and realized I am neither an EBB nor an MKR. I am just a WWB, and as such, I concluded that there are just no fancy words that would enhance this experience beyond the reality it is.
A common wild berry patch exudes an uncommon beauty, from the light green of the tiniest baby berry, to the deep, dark purplish-black of the ready-to-eat, with drupelets chockfull of flavor. The berries, their stages, and their colors represent spring, life, freedom, and sustenance, not only to humans but to wildlife as well. Although I’ve not seen anyone else picking berries here, there are trails, well worn and readily noticeable—trails I followed appreciatively. As I pondered these things, pushing forward with my shovel, something rustled under a pile of vines. I knew what I hoped it wasn’t.
Aloud I said, “There are enough berries here for us to share. I’m not here to hurt you. I’m only here to fill this little bucket, and I’ll be on my way.” My thoughts about famous writers continued when I noticed a huge bumble bee and a dragonfly sharing the patch with me. Who knew they liked berries, too? As I turned back to the path, a little rabbit scurried from her hiding place under the vines, across the path in front of me and under another thicket. I breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a you-know-what and verbally reminded the bunny I meant her no harm.
I resumed picking and could hear myriad noises of the goings on coming from the homes nearby. There were boats being launched and boats being taken out of the water. Sounds of children laughing—snippets of adult conversation floated over my head. Spicy aromas of family boils hung heavy in the air, and I imagined their pots full of blue crabs fresh from the water or crawfish purchased from the seafood market up the road, delivered early that morning from the flooded rice fields west of here. Families were making the best of the beautiful weather this Holy weekend, and so would we.
My bucket almost full and the patch barely touched, it sort of saddened me to think that most of these abundantly free fruits would go to waste on the vine—that most folks are too busy to be bothered with picking berries. While being thankful that berry picking is part of my culture, I was reminded of an Old Testament story read to me as a child about the wheat harvesters leaving wheat behind for the poor women to glean. I only picked one bucket, hoping someone would come behind me tomorrow and glean the berries that ripen overnight. As I put my last plump berry on the purple pile, I turned and gazed across this magnificent gift of Nature, thanking her for the bounty, hoping one day my family will remember with fondness picking berries as children, the cobblers and preserves we enjoyed, and continue to keep the tradition alive long after WWB, famous writer or not, is gone.
Now, it’s your turn to tell us your berry-picking, berry-eating, or berry-cooking stories. Take as much room as you like, because I have a feeling some of you have some doozies to share!
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Happy berry picking!