Wild Raspberries

Wild Raspberries June 29, 2010

The backs of my hands and the insides of my arms up way past the elbow are currently rough to the touch.  Look closely, and you can see the faint red cross-hatching left from my forays into a patch of black raspberries behind our new-to-us house.

I keep finding myself running my hands lightly over my raspberry scars.  It may sound odd, but they’re a source of no small satisfaction to me.  They don’t hurt much, and they remind me of something that is becoming precious to me: a connection not just with the land our house sits on, but with being alive and in my body in a way that last year, living downtown in a small city, I was not.

The house, the land, the land-love, and the plastic fast… and now this, my raspberry scars, are all connected.  Let me tell you how.

Last year, we bought this house, a hundred and fifty (or so–the records are lost) former farmhouse on a little less than an acre of land.  The house is long on “character”–floors that slope gently or not-so-gently, a 1970’s era kitchen, and funky 1950’s tile (made, ironically enough, from plastic) in the bathroom, as well as a wonderful curving staircase, dormer windows, and a slate roof.  There’s a busy, noisy highway out front–not a selling point, but probably the reason we were able to afford the house to begin with–and acres and acres of woods out back.

We love this house.  For the first time since I was a girl in the house I grew up in, I feel at home.

And last summer, when we were waiting for the closing and our move-in date, we would sometimes come and visit the house, walk in the woods, and dream.  And on one of those visits, we found a tiny handful of black raspberries on the very bush I’m picking from now.

Before we even moved into our house, it was feeding us.

Moving into a house again that had woods behind it has reminded me of how much I care about woods, the land, the planet.  Hiking the paths in those woods, last year and this year, took a concern for the earth that was sometimes a thing of my brain more than my body, and made it alive and visceral for me in new ways.  It made me feel, in my body, my love and my concern for this earth of ours… And though I have been making slow alterations in how I live my life for many years now, trying to live more ecologically, connecting again to a piece of land has given those changes a sense of urgency that’s hard to explain.

The land feeds us; we honor the land; we change to live in greater balance with the land.  It’s all connected.

I should also say that in the month since we began our plastic fast, I’ve noticed a deepening concern for all sorts of environmental change.  It’s not just plastic: I find myself wanting to be aware of energy consumption overall, of food miles and what kinds of chemicals and resources are being used to grow my food, and of the eco-friendly habits of thrift and husbandry that our grandparents lived by daily.

I can hear my grandfather’s voice, these days, in my inner ear.  “Turn the lights off!  We don’t own Central Maine Powah!”  And if my concern is less for my electric bill than for my carbon footprint, still, Right Use of Resources ideas are becoming part of what I’m alive to, too.

And then there are the raspberries.

When we moved in, our neighbor–a magnificent gardner, who kept up the perennial beds here after the old man who planted them had died–counseled us to uproot the raspberries that had invaded here and there around the yard.  Having eaten the fruit of that Other World, however, we resisted.  And this year, for whatever reason, there has been such a heavy crop of black raspberries that it is all I can do to keep up with them.

Twice a day, I go out to the yard to pick berries.  Morning and evening, I pick about a pint of berries each time I venture out.  Thus far, I have put up eight jars of jam and made an enormous black raspberry cobbler, that we’ve been eating for desserts all week.  I’ve got about enough picked again at this point to either freeze a batch, or can them in syrup, or perhaps make jam again.

In another few days, perhaps I will bake a pie, or some muffins.

I have all these cravings, not just to eat the berries, but not to eat commercially-produced foods; not just to enjoy them now, but to eat primarily the foods that are in season or that I have put up myself, when winter rolls around again.

I did not set out to become a localvore, but simply to reduce my use of plastics.  But all of this is part of a spiritual practice for me, and I’ve heard it said, follow the Light you’ve been given, and more will be given you.  Following any spiritual discipline gladly and freely tends to lead to more openings, more Light, and I think that’s happening.

And there are my teachers: the black raspberries… and the spiders lurking in the bushes, the birds quarreling with me for picking the sweet berries they wanted themselves, my dogs with their open, smiling mouths as I pick the fruit, the sweat on my forehead and the scratches on my arms.

I’m alive when I pick wild raspberries.  I’m smiling, I’m physical, and I’m real.  It is not just the fruit as I eat it that is the reward, but the whole process of being outside, a little uncomfortable but looking forward to the results of my work.

People who buy fruit in little plastic coffins, refrigerated in a big box grocery store not only pay an incredible amount of money–each of my forays into the berry patch would cost me $8.00 in a grocery store–but they bring home nothing but the berries.  No dodging of thorns, no sun-squint or sweat or interaction with the earth.  It is as if they bring home only the ghost of their food.

We’ve done so much, we humans, to make our lives convenient, painless, and easy.  But it turns out, take away the effort, take away the sweat and the thorns and the mosquitoes altogether, and you may lose something you didn’t even know was there.

I’m not saying that I like scratches on my arms for their own sake.  But I think that a willingness to sweat, to get dirty, to plan ahead and not count on fresh strawberries in January are going to be part of what we have to do to live kindly toward the earth.  And it turns out, this kind of living is not without rewards.  No kidding–a life lived hermetically sealed in plastic is not as joyful as one with thorns alongside the sweets.

None of the concerns I am writing about, from thrift to time spent outside, are totally new or totally alien to me.  But living them, together with an effort to be true to the leading I have had, that plastic use is not treating the planet as though She mattered, is weaving together all these concerns in a way that is very nearly as satisfying as the time I am spending harvesting our wild raspberries.

I am eager to see where this practice is going to lead.

Black Raspberries in Fruit by Ken Golding, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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