Digging the Learning Curve: Berries, by Deirdre Sinnott
Just yesterday, I was thinking that I couldn't grow food and that I ought to give up and just plant perennials. Today, after I ate lettuce, a pepper, dill, and some raspberries from the back garden, I'm willing to rethink my position. I wanted to post a little story about berries. I hope you enjoy it. Digging the Learning Curve: Berries, by Deirdre Sinnott My mother loves berries. It's one of the few things that truly delight her. I used to look for that unreserved approval after presenting her with a good report card or, more recently, a discussion of my potential wedding, and never see it. But when I give her a few berries, freshly picked or purchased at the farmer's market, I'm guaranteed a happy and grateful mother. I first discovered how to delight my mother in my grandmother's back yard. When I was growing up there was a large pile of old wood in back of my grandmother's house. It seemed rotted enough to have been part of the leftover junk from the construction of her house, 60 years before. Grey and blackened boards lay at crazy angles forming a mound to the side of the lawn in the far back yard, near the edge of her property. The pile wasn't that high, only about four feet tall, but it stretched twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. Over the years wild blackberry bushes entwined with the wood, feeding off the moist decomposition of the old boards. Hundreds of sprigs shot up in all directions. In spring thousands of tiny flowers bloomed offering the promise of a summer harvest. I used to visit the pile often, checking on the progress of the berries. I watched as the flowers opened, attracting bees and hummingbirds. Soon the petals dropped and small dots appeared from the center of the flower. Each rain helped to plump the seeds, encasing them in a fleshy cocoon. In July they neared their full size. The sun transformed the green into red, and then into maroon, until finally fully-formed and ripened blackberries clustered on each branch. Dry summers might yield berries with only four seeds to present. Wet summers could turn each one into a thimble-sized cone of taste. One sunny July afternoon, upon arriving at my grandmother's house, I ran back to the pile to see if they were ready to be picked. Ripe berries dangled near the edge of the pile. I gently pulled them off their stalks. With full hands, I ran back to Mom eager to hear that aahh of happiness. "Thank you," she said. She pulled each one from my hand, inspected it and popped it into her mouth. "Those are good. Were there more?" Warmed by her happiness, I nodded slowly. "Let's get you a bowl or better yet a bucket," she said. Armed with a small bucket, I returned to the pile. As I surveyed the task, I noticed that the best berries were just out of my reach. The branches deep inside appeared to be sagging under the weight of ripe berries. I nimbly placed on one foot on an old board that stuck out of the pile. As I slowly offered it more of my weight, it held. Confident, I stepped into the berry patch, collecting as I went. Each step deeper into the pile revealed more berries, as always, just beyond my reach. I moved along the shaky bridge of lumber. The berry stalks bristled with thorns. My arms and legs felt the prick of every wrong move. My clothing caught on unattended branches. Still I inched forward. More and more berries filled my bucket. I never explored this far into the pile before, but I wanted to bring back a brimming offering, certain to make my mother happy. I stepped gingerly onto another beam, but I began to wobble. I tried to move back to safety, but my foot couldn't find purchase. I grabbed a stout looking berry stalk and tried to steady myself. My hand slid up the branch as I fought for balance. Thorns bit into my palm. I yelped and my foot broke through a board, falling until it finally hit another solid piece of wood. Shaken I looked at my bucket. They were all still there. Blackberries, piled one on top of the other, looked like a mass of frozen droplets. I stood still trying to catch my breath. I noticed that my right hand ached. When I flipped it over for inspection blood ran freely from several tears, mixing with squished berries. I rubbed my hand on my shorts. Tears stung the corners of my eyes, but I didn't cry. My hands shook as I turned and extricated myself from the pile. This time I was less careful, rushing to be released from the thorny grip of the blackberries. I stumbled as I jumped out, only saving my bucket of treasure at the last moment. When I approached my mother, I saw the alarm in her eyes. "What happened?" she said, standing to meet me. "I fell." "Let me see you. Are you all right?" She inspected my arms and legs pausing when she found the cuts on my palm. "I brought you these," I said holding the bucket of berries out to her. "Well that's good, but you didn't have to kill yourself doing it," she said as she ushered me toward the house. As she cleaned my hand, wiping off the berries and the blood, I began to cry. "Does this hurt?" she asked. "No," I said. "Why are you crying?" she asked. "Because I wanted you to be happy," I stammered. "I wanted to give you the berries and make you happy." "You made me happy," she said with a slight wisp of impatience. "Just don't hurt yourself next time." "I won't," I said. Yesterday, just before I was to drive to Mom's house for a visit, I found myself deep in a berry patch, just off my driveway. As I stretched to reach a particularly berry-laden branch, I remembered my grandmother's berry pile. Again, just like my childhood, I was collecting berries to present to my mother. As I pulled my hand back, I remembered the feeling of scratching bushes and blood mixing with berries. It felt strange that I was still in pursuit of my mother's love -- and still trying for it in the same way.