Today Josie and I walked around the forest, looking for blackberries. She told me with authority, "follow me. I know where some are." I walked behind her obediently, through our overgrown and scraggly backyard, to a small blackberry bush I didn't even know was there. It had 5 berries on it, 3 red, 2 black. We picked the 2 black ones, examined them in our hands, and then put them in our mouths with a synchronized motion. They were bursting with juice, it dribbled down our chins. They tasted tangy and sweet, warm and cool, as if the middle June were a flavor. Deeper, earthier, more real than the ones we got from the grocery store last week. A vanguard of the coming crop. "We need to go find more," I told her. So we walked further down the road toward the place we saw the blackberry bushes flowering in April by the pond. Here too, she led the way. On a large, thorny bush near standing water, there were constellations of small red berries with occasional big black-purple ones drooping in between.
Too eager, I thundered down the embankment and crashed through the brambles in the underbrush to harvest those that were ready. Josie held the empty bowl and shouted encouragement from the road, "Careful, Mama, only get the black ones. The red ones aren't ready yet."
I saluted her and said, "yes ma'am!" I stumbled toward the still water in the pond. I scraped my knees on the thorns. My dress caught. Fire ants, alarmed at my sudden descent, crawled over my toes in disarray. I hopped around until I was untangled. I treaded more carefully then. After 5 minutes, I loosely cupped a dozen or so berries in my hand and hiked back up the bank toward Josie.
"You okay, mama?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "When we come back tomorrow, I'll be sure to wear boots and pants."
Then I made a show of presenting her with the berries. She inspected each one before depositing them proudly in the bowl. We stood on the road facing each other and ate another one, delighting and savoring the taste as we delighted and savored each other.
"Let's not eat them all," I said, "let's share them with Ro and Zelda. The best part of such a harvest is sharing."
We walked up the road to Jenna's house and presented ourselves at the door, unannounced. Zelda, fat and happy and 18 months old, lumbered up to us and took a blackberry in each grubby, little hand. She put them in her mouth in quick succession and clapped and danced and asked with shining eyes for more. She didn't ask with words, just with every other part of her, her eyes, her whole beautiful little body, thrust forward, with reaching hands, expectant for more.
Jenna came out, startled to see us.
"We picked the first blackberries from by the pond," I explained, "we wanted to share."
She picked up Zelda and balanced her on her hip in the absentminded way young mothers always do. We let Zelda finish the blackberries, one at at time, straining for more.
"I need to soak this in," I told Jenna. "Zelda eating blackberries in summer. This will nourish my soul for a while. This is a memory I will feast on for years."
When I sit down to write now, I will work hard to remember this, it's an allegory for the creative process--The hunt, the companionship, the delight in finding something ready to be harvested, the toil and scrapes, the fire-ants dance of anxiety, the sheer delight of sharing. I want to be as willing to engage as Zelda was, just a whole-body experience of the blackberries. It starts with paying exceptionally close attention to what is red in a sea of green, what is ready to be harvested. It starts with, trusting that a little child can guide you toward something real and beautiful and good. Trusting that this small harvest is just the beginning of the abundance. Trusting that there is more than enough to come.
There really were so many red berries, just on the cusp of readiness, you can almost feel them pushing toward fullness with all their might.