“No,” I answered, inspecting the tiny red scratches, “just been berry-picking.”
The blackberries were beautiful this summer. They started to ripen during a long heat wave while I was away at some shin-dig late June in Toronto, a hot, sticky blanket that lingered over the north of Germany for another couple of weeks after I got back until the third week of July. Riding by my usual patches I’d always stop to inspect the crop, checking to make sure the bright green buds were on their way to red. Then, as the red ones at the apex of each bunch started to blacken, I knew my free time for the next couple of weeks would be filled with picking, baking pies and making jam.
I have three main patches to pick in rotation. One is a five-minute bike ride from the office, so after work I’d ride my bike into the thickest part, change into my old clothes and start filling the empty containers.
My main patch is a five-minute walk from home on a huge empty lot near the commuter rail line. A third is a little further out of the way and much smaller, but worth it because the bushes are up against a building that catches and intensifies the heat of the sun, making the berries especially sweet if you wait long enough before picking them. For the main patch near our place I’d carry a stepladder to throw over the bushes and gain access to the juiciest ones at the top that, without aid, always remain just too far out of reach.
Since I’ve been old enough to pick up a pail I’ve been heading off to pick blackberries, bringing them home so my mother could cook them up. To be able to carry on so many years later something that started behind our house in a little mountainside Pacific coast village in Canada gives me a connection not only to my earliest past, but with the place it all started.
I also like the calming, meditative effect of being focused on one task. In this age of continuous partial attention and constant interruption, having a couple of hours to concentrate on something as simple and timeless as gathering food for your family is quite rare. I took the little red-haired girl along one morning and noticed that after the first few minutes of chatting and joking about little things, she too became relaxed and quiet as we worked our way along.
In bringing her along I also think I’m showing her how important it is to seize the day, to do things when it’s time to do them, because if there’s one thing that won’t wait for the next day, it’s berries.
There is also a great satisfaction in serving up a warm blackberry pie for dessert while a stack of jam jars cools on the counter, knowing that when you go to open one the following January you’ll be able to enjoy something that truly is the fruit of your own labours, and which costs nothing but the time you spend on it. I go to markets and see trays of perfect berries selling for €8 a half-kilo and give a little inward smile. Of course it’s easier to just buy them, but the pain of a few thorns and scratches that go away in a few days are worth it to get a lot more than just the berries.