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Picking Berries

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

Today the rains came. For weeks the sun cradled the world in golden light, warming the sodden earth, browning my pale skin. Fronds and leaves and tendrils of all shapes and sizes burst forth from naked winter earth. Big Leaf Maple and Alder, Hazel and Dogwood softened the austere browns of the winter forest with dazzling shades of green, and choruses of bird song strung the air with sound. The heady perfume of Lilac and Hawthorn, of Rowan and Cherry both invigorated and hypnotized. Each day I’d lay in my hammock, awash in the cool, gently shifting shadows of the maple tree behind my house. The compulsion to be outside, to participate in the rebirth of life was irresistible. My thoughts were awake, energized, passionate and luxurious as the deeply hued and prolific Rhododendron flowers exploding into color all around me.

But today the rains came. Today I woke to the dim light of an overcast sky, and opened the window to the scent of freshly fallen rain. I relaxed deeply and leaned into the petrichor perfume. My thoughts slowed and took on a dreamy quality. The rain, like a finger, pressed itself against the lips of my chatty brain. Shhh. Rest now. Just rest.

I took a walk in the woods. The birds’ singing was subdued. What was louder was the soft snap and pop of the raindrops on the leaves. The whole forest seemed to have taken the same big sigh I had earlier, had stopped the frenetic work of growing and fruiting in order to take a drink.

It is quiet but for the pop, pop and slap of raindrops shattering on the leaves. I spy a handful of ripe salmon berries just off the trail and decide to try to get to them. I slide my foot in between two waterleaf plants (Hydrophyllum) and my foot touches the naked ground. It’s slow, but I go carefully and find small bare places in between all the foliage for my small feet. The Salmonberry bush, once I get there, is twice as tall as I am. I stand on my tippy toes and pull an arcing branch down with one hand. With the other I pluck two perfectly ripe salmon colored berries off the branch. I whisper, “thank you” before popping them into my mouth. They are tart and delicious. I take a long time to savor the flavors.

As I finish my walk in the woods I wonder why I have gone out of my way to eat two measly berries when there is a grocery store a mile away, when all I have to do to get a meal is sit down in a restaurant, tell someone what I want to eat and they’ll bring it to me. It occurs to me that the berries, more than feeding my body, are feeding my soul by connecting me to this place, this ecosystem. Navigating the underbrush to pick and eat berries contextualizes me in a way that a grocery store meal can’t.

I return home and open the piece of writing I have been working on for the past week. I stare at it a long time, before I begin to write something else entirely. I don’t feel like getting expository. My mood is with the dripping sky and the rain soaked leaves. I write what comes to mind with no particular goal in mind. By the time I’m done the page is a jumble of whimsical sentences. It resembles the beautifully wild and haphazard understory of the forest. Lush and green, textured and varied, the ideas and images burst forth with fierce will, filling the page with a beautiful, but impenetrable carpet of words. I glance through the jumble and spot a fully formed idea. Deftly, I separate ideas from frilly pieces of prose and find solid ground.

Carefully, I pick my way through my lush reverie until I reach the fruit of the piece.

I stop.

I take a breath in and listen to the slow sound of air escaping through my lips.

I listen to the rain outside tapping on the window.

I lean back in my chair with a sense of contentment and satisfaction.

Writing is sometimes like picking berries. There is joy in the experience of creation and in the effort. The berries grow and I pick them. The ideas come and I write them down. So often we feel there must be a reason for what we do, some purpose or finish line. Existing without purpose can be uncomfortable, if not terrifying, but it can also be liberating. Picking berries teaches us to find purpose in the simple acts. It teaches us that being is enough of a purpose. Into this grounded but ambiguous space our gifts are free to express themselves, to play and experiment. With no agenda our gifts work through us, spreading joy in a cynical world.

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