For five Septembers, now, I’ve spent weekend mornings and weekday afternoons with my daughter along the river or in the meadows picking blackberries. She has grown from a 16 month old toddler, with dark purple stains on her chubby fingers, to a five- year-old school girl, with dark purple stains on her delicate hands. For five Septembers, I’ve found myself extracting her from the thorns and brambles that tangle her hair, catch the cuff of her trousers, grab the hood of her sweatshirt. She is oblivious to the nettle stings and prickly scratches that come with the territory; never mind discomfort when blackberries are at hand.
My husband and son lost interest in the annual blackberry gathering ritual after one or two years. But not Juniper and I. We spend easy hours plucking these jewels , never tiring of tasting, wincing at the sour ones, finding sweet tangy pleasure in the ones that are just right.
Blackberries are summer’s consolation, her farewell gift as she descends into autumn. We wait all summer, watching a slow transformation as blossoms become hard green possibility become tart red promise become blackberries. And when they are finally ready, it seems like an endless abundance. We cannot pick them soon enough.
‘You’ve got to pick them before the first frost,’ warns my neighbour, ‘after that, the devil spits on them and they’re no good.’
This is a wealth both fleeting and cyclical. Each year I am amazed that they have, once again, arrived. Each year I am astonished at their bursting beauty. Like tulips breaking the soil and the first snowfall dusting the trees, their perennial appearance deepens their beauty, each year is an echo of the one before.
Some years I’ve frozen them, with thoughts of blackberry sauce at Christmas time. One year, I tried to make blackberry jam. But somehow storing and preserving this beauty for another day has never worked for me. The berries remain frozen, the jam uneaten. Now I believe they taste best straight from the bushes, or maybe later in the evening on the day of picking. Saving them for later dulls the enchantment of now.
It occurs to me that picking blackberries is like choosing words. The very best ones all taste a little bit different from year to year, from area to area, reflecting their journey to becoming fruit. You can tend them all year, but you’ve got to wait until they are ready to fall, on just the right days, in just the right order into your hands. But you mustn’t be passive – wait too long and their fullness folds, their flavour fades. Readiness is all.
This string of Septembers has brought me a realization: whether harvesting words or berries, abundance awaits. We need only to find the time, presence, and patience to gather it.