Backwoods Blackberry Boogie: Lessons on Connectedness

            “When the blackberries hang swollen in the woods, in the brambles nobody owns, I spend all day among the high branches, reaching my ripped arms, thinking of nothing, cramming the black honey of summer into my mouth; all day my body accepts what it is.”—Mary Oliver

             “ . . .purple as the stain blackberries leave on the lips, on the hands, . . .”—Marge Piercy

 

            “Ouch!”

 

            Smack.  Rub. Brush.

 

            “Ow!”

 

            Whack.  Ruffle. Shake.

 

            “Ah, dang it!”

 

            Wipe. Smear.  Reach.

 

            I smile as I decide to give my shenanigans a name, the “Backwoods Blackberry Boogie”.  Truth-be-told, while I should be in the woods, I am actually standing in our yard. Several years ago, a bird must have “dropped” a special package amongst the shrubs planted along one side of our home; and now, some years later, we have a large blackberry bush blossoming each July just around the corner from my front door.

 

            Should we have cut it down?  Probably. Perhaps, we should have dug it out instead.  Then again, there were always chemicals we could have use; and yet, we did not.  Lazy? Not really. Distracted? Certainly. Distracted with life—caring for loved ones; working long hours while juggling a few part-time gigs; and, spending time with our child—initially running with all of her sports/activities of high school, to now, making the four hour drive each way to her college several weekends per year . . . the list goes on. Bottom line, we no longer should live on five acres of land, much less own a large yard; and so, a blackberry bush grows in one small part of it.

 

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            Whether the choice was intentional or not, the point is moot now; and honestly, we don’t have the heart to uproot, cut down, or destroy our yard-growing blackberry bush.  Most likely, it will come down at some point—either by us or future owners—but, for now, blackberry juice, which ironically looks like blood—will not be on my hands. Well, actually it is on my hands, but not due to the death of the bush.

 

       While I did have blackberry juice stains on my hands, it was NOT from killing the wild bush in our yard.

 

            If a big ol’ blackberry bush is gonna grow wildly in my side yard, to the scorn of aesthetics—I can only imagine what a realtor would think—then, I am going to at least make the most of its brambles. When life gives you lemons, or in this case blackberries, why not make blackberry cobbler, right?  Therefore, in the cool shade of a quiet July 4th evening, well before the noise and mayhem of fireworks, I peacefully, well as peacefully as one can be in blackberry bramble, picked berries.

 

            As I live alongside a main route in Lawrence County, OH, the late afternoon/early evening hours are typically filled with the sounds of cars zooming by as residents traverse home from work, head to town for dinner or errands, and even zip down the road for a summer joy ride.  However, on this night, there was little to no traffic, allowing bird song, insect buzz, and the mewing of the neighbor’s cat to provide a soothing sort of lullaby as I piddled, prodded, and picked. My mind floated, like a lotus flower on pond water, despite distractions from the prickling thorns and the overbearing bites of the aggressive blood sucking summer bullies.

 

 

 Picking blackberries

One by one

Thinking of him.

Papaw taught me

How it was done.

Not in the heat 

Of the summer sun, but

Early morn’ or evenin’ cool.

Pick ‘em ripe and

Leave a few

For feathered friends—

They gave ‘em to you

 

Plucking blackberries.  

One by one.

Carefully selectin’

The darkest of clusters

Purple blemish on hands.

Blood blots on limbs.

Mosquitoes buzz and bite.

Birds scare and scatter

While a nearby rabbit skitters.

Plunk, plink, plop

Bowl fills.

Did I leave enough?

 

Cleaning blackberries.

One by one

Thinking of her.

Grandmother taught me

How it was done.

Search for crawling critters and

Random leaves or stems.

Add some sugar.

Bake it up.

Summer bursting,

Exploding with goodness

Memories in my mouth.

 

             Divine Providence served up part fruitful lesson and part sweet memory on that evening that continues to linger in my mind as a sip of good wine on the tongue.   Sure, there are the obvious lessons of thorny times; brambly messes of unexpected life events; and the fruits produced by our labors. However, beyond that, at least for me, there was the lesson of connectedness—not only to my past, but also to nature, my life, and the roots of my faith.

 

          The thorns and bramble of blackberries are often like the thorns and bramble of life.

 

            My grandparents, the three that I knew well, were deeply influential in my life in their own unique ways. While I spent more time with my maternal side, all three planted within me the belief of God and the magic of summer that our Creator provided.  From summer church revivals to extended summer sleepovers at one of their houses; from the proper time to pick a tomato to green bean stringing techniques; from flower watering to bird watching; from garden planting to good ol’ Appalachian summer cookin’; and, from berry pickin’ to pie or cobbler bakin’, they taught me that summertime was God’s magical show for adults and kids alike to savor, sip, and share.  

 

Rinsing batches of blackberries in the kitchen sink when I noticed a hitchhiker that I had to send back outside!

 

            A bird drops a seed.  One tiny seed. The rains come, and frost covers. The sun warms, and a sprout grows.  The mower misses, and the busy family doesn’t notice. Bees flit about its early blooms.  Slowly, quietly it grows, rooting, spreading, and sprouting—just like my faith, just like my grandparents’ love, and just like life.

 

            As I rinsed the blackberries carefully, their astringent, but sweet, aroma rising from the sink, I plucked a fat berry from the colander and plopped it into my mouth. I bite.  Juice explodes upon my tongue. I am again a child–drifting between–Grandmother’s kitchen as she prepared to bake a cobbler, humming a hymn, while Papaw could be heard in the basement below, hand-cranking ice cream; and then over the hill to my Mamaw’s front porch after she’d watered her multihued zinnias and gathered their seeds, the squeak of the to and fro of the green and white metal glider, upon which we sat, provided the ambient seasonal sound, and the scent of her baby powder mixed with her VO5 hair product filled my nostrils as we waited for the fireflies to dance, and listened for the whisperings of God. 

 

         Blackberries in grain-free granola and topped with chia and flax seeds with a splash of non-dairy milk.

 

          I thoughtfully chew the berry, closing my eyes, knowing at that very moment, birds are once more nibbling away at the remaining blackberries in my yard, and somewhere, in a Raceland, KY, cemetery, rest in peace all of my beloved grandparents eternally bird-watching, cradled in the arms of the Creator.  My heart burst with connectedness, and I offered up a prayer of gratitude.

 

            Who knows, whenever we do leave this house, maybe the next owners will keep the blackberry bush too?

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Blackberries and hemp hearts on a freshly made garden salad, drizzled with fresh made Dijon Date Dressing. 

 

 

 

 

 

            

 

            

 

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