I went down to the river today to check how the blackberries are ripening. Last year at this time the berries were large and sweet and plentiful. I went almost daily and picked bucketsful, coming home and filling the freezer. Things were hopeful then. Paul’s surgery had gone well, as good as can be expected, his surgeon had said.
Blackberry picking is prayer for me. It’s a communion of sunshine, berries and water. The stuff of life. Today though, green berries hung under smoke-hazed sky as I walked through the river.
I don’t know what it is about picking blackberries that takes me into contemplation but it does. Every time. The abundance of green berries mimicked my bereavement, hanging there where a year ago hung sweetness and hope. The water felt cold on my feet.
Yet as I gazed at the bushes I realized that there were not only green berries. Ripening had started. And while many berries that had darkened were not yet sweet, I could spot the ripe ones. Something about their sheen and the way they hung set them apart from the others. I started picking, carefully spotting the few and delicately rolling them off with my fingers. It’s almost impossible to completely avoid the brambles even picking from the river and the scarcity of the ripe berries meant moving in close to reach all that I could. I spent some time untangling from thorns. But I was thinking about how those ripe berries were adding up to a small but delightful harvest when I turned to step to the next section.
River picking takes some special knowledge, the main one being watch your feet. When you’re standing in water moving over slippery stone, stepping blindly risks falling. And it’s not just getting wet. Falling means losing the bounty of fresh-picked berries. So as I began to move down the bush, I turned to spot my feet in the river. And saw the ducks.
Five brown ducks skimmed through the water right behind me, bobbing and ducking and gliding. I found a dry stone where I could sit and watch their interactions. I felt myself soften. And when a dog and its human came down, scaring away the ducks, I noticed a fan of grass growing out of the crack of a stone poking out of the water. And my attention was caught by leaves floating downstream.
After a while I got up and crossed over to the other bank and picked a few of the ripe berries there. From that side I could hear the bumble bees that were visiting the flowers growing on the bank. I found a spot where I could watch them bounce between blossoms. The dog and it’s owner left and quiet settled in. The ducks mosied back. A brilliant blue dragonfly attached itself to a stem of grass. I lay on my belly for a closer look. The ducks found a spot for grooming. Little white feathers fluttered onto the water and drifted with the current. The afternoon ebbed.
Eventually I got up, brushed myself off and waded back to the path.
Today’s venture did not yield more than two cups of blackberries and only moderately sweet at that, and yet I came away with the abundance of the river. Maybe, as the summer continues, the berries will ripen to a bountiful harvest and maybe this will be a year of low yield. I’ll keep checking. But I’ve learned once again that God’s gifts are not always the expected or sought after. Abundance comes in different forms. And sometimes it shows up quietly from behind when our attention is elsewhere. If we’re lucky, we’ll notice. Thanks be to God.
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