“What happened to you?” I was at a party, sunk into a deep, comfortable couch with a cocktail raised to my lips. Another guest had glanced idly at my bare legs, then looked again, covered as they were in an impressive network of scratches that sort of resembled a road map—there were bigger scratches like freeways, others the merest faint logging trail—and hence the question.
In the sudden lull, I looked down, laughed, and said, “Picking blackberries.”
The temperature had crept steadily up all week, until it was in the 90’s by the weekend. I love hot weather. While all of the other Seattleites made a beeline for the movies or sprawled in front of their air conditioners moaning softly and eating ice cream, I was in my element. Like a lizard coming to life on a hot rock, I stretched and relaxed, my toes and fingers warmed, my very bones seemed full of sunshine. I was drunk on it—grinning and euphoric. Oh, the joys of putting on shorts and sandals and sunscreen. The pleasure of visible toenail polish!
I knew exactly how I wanted to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon. I collected my ice cream buckets and my sister, and we went berry picking. Blackberries grow wild all over the place here—they are literally weeds. And I’ve got a sweet picking spot, with easy to access blackberry vines running alongside a footpath.
It was glorious. We put on our sunhats and worked our way down the trail. We chatted a little, but mostly just focused on the hunting and gathering. While the easy to pick berries were plentiful, the best ones inevitably dangled tantalizingly just beyond arms length, tempting us to step just a tiny bit into the bramble, to reach just a little farther…
The sun beat down on my shoulders, the back of my legs, and the tops of my feet, so bright I could almost feel the yellow of it on my skin. A stream gurgled out of sight, somewhere just behind the blackberry brambles. The occasional crow wheeled overhead. Every now and then a bicycle whizzed by. Bumble bees accompanied us, their constant buzzing a hypnotic Buddhist chant in the background—strong and soothing and continuous.
It occurred to me that we were part of legions of women throughout history who have foraged side by side, patiently, persistently. The earth turns, the seasons change, but all over the world women are always out there, digging, gathering, gleaning at the edges of fields, filling buckets and sacks with the bounty.
My thoughts wandered along these lines, then stilled. Picking berries is a meditation, a prayer, a walking zazen. As hands move from vine to bucket, vine to bucket, vine to bucket, the monkey mind settles down.
At last, after what could have been just an hour or all afternoon, our gallon buckets were full to overflowing. When we couldn’t put a berry in without three more falling out, we wandered back to the car, our flip-flops smacking the hot asphalt–with scratched legs, sticky purple fingers, sunburn and freckles wherever the sunscreen couldn’t keep up, and enough blackberries to make a whole lot of jam.