Monday, September 02, 2013

Learning from Blackberry Season

Whenever people ask me what my favorite season is, I generally say autumn.  Who doesn't like fall?  (Except maybe kids who are returning to school...)  Autumn has it all - colorful scenery, hot chocolate, football, York apples, pumpkins, wood-burning stoves, and culminating in Thanksgiving!   I love the season so much that one year I honored it in a quilt (below).  On the back, I quilted all the things I loved about this upcoming time of year (including a silhouette of Santa in one corner - because, as we know, when fall ends, Christmas is right around the corner....).

The sign to me that fall is on its way is the ripening of the blackberry bushes.

We have a few in our yard and several in our neighborhood.  It's good vision practice to zero in on a few ripe black ones in a sea of unripe red ones.  I love to pick blackberries and I love to eat them!

Blackberry season is over, I'm afraid.  I think I picked about 5 quarts in all.  Every seasonal change is a curse tied up with a blessing - for as much as I hate to see one season go, the next season has its own splendor and celebrations.  I had a lot of time to think as I was berry picking last month, and the more I pondered on things, the more I realized that blackberry picking is a lot like life.

1.  Everyone matures at his/her own unique rate.  Not all the berries on one street, one yard, one bush, or even one branch ripen at the same time.  It always amazes me that one branch, which gets the same amount of sun and the same amount of water and temperature will have some berries ripe on Tuesday, more on Wednesday, more on Thursday, and so on.   The very same bush I checked yesterday, from which I gathered every ripe berry until none was left, today is loaded with the juiciest, blackest berries you ever saw.  Just yesterday they were red.  Go figure.

It's the same with people you run across in life.  Sometimes just in the same family, children will be totally different in their physical, mental, and emotional maturity.  Yet they were raised in the same environment by the same parents.  So too are all the folks we encounter in our lives.   It's difficult not to judge immaturity in people, but you never know - that same person might be one day away from an insight of wisdom.  We encounter people traveling our road, but not necessarily at our speed, and there are always people ahead of us and behind us.  It doesn't mean they are better or worse than we are - it just means they are on a different maturity growth schedule.  (Unfortunately, some, like the shriveled red berries that never ripened, never make it all the way to maturity; witness the police reports.)

2.  Evaluate the risks.  Ah, yes, those pesky thorns - and mud - and a dog on a leash and a basket in one hand.   There is a spectacular set of blackberry bushes on the road in front of a house that a Pennsylvania family uses as a vacation home right now.  A family member saw my husband one day who commented on their plethora of bushes and they said they wouldn't even be around for blackberry season and to tell his wife that she is welcome to their bushes.  Very nice!  However, just like a castle with a forbidding moat, those bushes are on the other side of a shallow ditch-like area, which in blackberry season is usually filled with mud.   Wise or not, I always walk the dog when I am berry picking.  So one day the temptation of those plump berries calling my name was too great, and with the leash over my left wrist, and the basket in my right hand, I stood sideways and took a giant step with my left leg over the muddy water and stood like that while my left hand snatched what berries it could.   However, the hill where I had one foot propped was a mudslide waiting to happen - and of course, it happened, and as I panicked I grabbed the bush to stop the slide, which, of course, showered me with countless thorns.  Not a pretty picture.  The next trip, the bush still tempted me, but as I evaluated the risks of falling in mud and cutting up my arms, I decided it wasn't worth it.

One thing I transcribe every day is this: "The risks and benefits of the treatment were explained to the patient."  Everything we do in life consists of a risk/benefit judgment.  Every day you drive you are saying the risk of a wreck is worth the reason for the trip.  Whenever you take pain medicine, which always has some risks, you are saying it is worth it to feel better.  When the benefits outweigh the risks of our choices, decisions are easy.  The hard part comes when the risks are great and it might be better to cut our losses or keep the status quo and turn away.

3.  Look at everything from different angle.  It never failed - on my walk down the road, I picked the blackberries until I could find no more ripe ones.  Then as I walked back to the house up the road, I noticed that, from a different angle, I could see all the ones I missed on those same bushes.   I think I'm so smart and so thorough - yet I always found more berries on my way back from the exact bushes I picked "clean" on the way down.

In life it can't hurt to take a look from a different perspective.  From the other side, or from another set of eyes, or from hearing another person's opinion - you may just find something you missed.

4.  Savor the pleasures in life, for some are short.  Blackberry season is only a couple of weeks.  It's something I look forward to and hate to see go.  Time is of the essence.  You pick and pick and then one day there aren't any more black berries, and the red ones that never turned are withered and you realize blackberry season is over for this year.

In life, the child-rearing experience for parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, is fleeting - babies start crawling, kids get potty trained, children start the first day of school - and on and on.  What may seem like an eternity in the present slips away before you know it, leaving you looking back with sighs and a few tears.

So those are the lessons I learned from the blackberry bushes.  I'm a survivor of blackberry season - and I have the scars to prove it!  Sometimes I won, sometimes the bushes won, but gee, the muffins were delicious!  So goodbye to summer, and just around the corner is pumpkin time, then Christmas, then another year will have passed.   The special thing about life, I find, is that I know (unless we annihilate the human race or our damage to the environment makes the earth uninhabitable) that blackberry season will come again next year.  It's a comforting thought.   When we say goodbye to a season, it's always a temporary au revoir because there's a great chance we will be welcoming it back next year.  Some of us, of course, never make it.  So if you live to see another returning season filled with its special beauty and memories, consider it a wonderful blessing to be appreciated.