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What I learned in the blackberry patch

Fruit picking and life lessons go hand in hand
What I learned in the blackberry patch

by Tanis Helliwell Autumn has arrived and summer has faded. This is the time blackberries ripen ready for eating and ready to be picked. I’ve been thinking about everything that blackberries have taught me, and I thought I’d pass these musings along to you.

Be patient awaiting the harvest

I’ve prepared for the blackberry harvest for months now. All summer I’ve cut back the over zealous canes that invaded my yard. I’ve watched the flowers bloom, and seen the first fruits appear, white, then red, and now purple-black. A week ago, when the blackberries darkened, I thought they were ready. Eagerly, I started picking only to find that the berries had to be pried off their stems and even then were sour. I realized at that moment I couldn’t rush the berries.

How often in life do we rush our own harvest? After much hard work we see our goal in sight and want to get it “now.” Still we must wait for nature and as the Norse rune stones say, “you must wait on the will of heaven.” We’ll know the right time because the fruits of our labour, like berries, will fall sweetly into our hands.

Don’t strain. Pick low-hanging fruit

It would be nice if all blackberries were located on branches extending no more than five feet off the ground, but I’ve found this not to be the case. Often, after I’ve picked the fruit within reach, I see delicious berries just a few inches higher on the branch. Going up on tip toes I’ve stretched and grabbed one or two berries, only to be taunted by those flaunting themselves only a few inches higher. A number of times I’ve made the mistake of trying for those berries out of reach, lost my footing, and fallen into the brambles. Definitely unpleasant.

Now I’m content to fill my basket with low-hanging fruit and leave the rest of the berries for the birds and for six-foot tall guests. I’ve realized that there will always be another berry tempting us. Continually striving to “get them all” is only greed and leads to perennial unhappiness. Let’s face it, we’ll never get all the berries.

The sweetest berries often don’t look the best

In search of perfect berries I’ve discovered that often it’s the slightly overripe ones that are the most delicious. The “perfect” berry to our sight often is not fully ripe. The best berries need to soak up a lot of sun. This fact reminds me of some people who, having developed the light of wisdom and compassion, become more beautiful as they age.

Actually, it’s often bugs that lead us to the best berries because bugs seek sweetness, not looks. I call bugs “the protein factor” and I’ve come to view them, not as an enemy, but as deserving of berries as me. So they get a few, and I get a few, and we’re all happy.

Leave berries that fall to the ground

It’s inevitable that berries will fall to the ground as you pick. Some are overripe and some perfect ones fall between your fingers. Like berries falling out of our hands, in life it is difficult to hold on to every opportunity that comes our way. In life we must often choose what to hold, and what to let go. There’s no sense lusting after fallen berries. Instead, let’s be grateful for the fruit we hold in our hands.

Prickles are a way of life

It is inevitable that we’ll scratch our hands and arms while berry picking. The more we pick, the more scratches. There are some things we can do to deter the brambles. For example, we could wear a long-sleeved shirt and only pick berries that hang within easy reach. As with life, we can reduce the number of painful experiences through anticipation and good planning. However, we will never be able to totally gather the fruit of our life without venturing among the prickles. Any good berry picker will say this.

Reward yourself as you pick

There are two kinds of berry pickers, those who eat as they pick, and those who don’t. By now, you might have guessed that I fall into the first group. I recommend ongoing gratification for several reasons. The sun is hot, your hands are scratched, your basket is heavy, and berry picking is not fun after the first half hour or so; it’s work. Also, there are many “fun” things you could be enjoying if you weren’t picking. What makes the discomfort of picking doable is eating sweet berries, which are at their very best the moment they’re taken off their vine.

I reward myself daily and weekly with little treats and don’t put off eating the berries. By doing this I enjoy the present moment and do not delay gratification into an unknown future. Who can know what will happen in the future? Just like berries might spoil before you freeze them, your long awaited goals might not materialize.

Save for the future

At the same time, we also need to save some berries for the winter. Unlike bears, who gorge on berries during the autumn and then hibernate for months without eating, humans do very badly without food. Eating the berries you picked feeds more than just the body, it also feeds your soul. Every time you eat your berries in the dark of winter you remember how you felt when you picked them. Your summer memories will flood back. How much better then to remember your joy eating the berries as you picked them. One berry for you to eat as you picked, one berry left for the bugs, one for your basket, and one left for the birds.

Tanis Helliwell, M.Ed., is the author of Summer with the Leprechauns, Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns, Take Your Soul to Work, and upcoming Decoding Your Destiny.