It was a perfect late-August morning. The air was dry, hot and pungent with the smell of sweet fern. A gracious breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay and the heat tolerable as my parents and I each headed outward from the pickup truck to find our very own "pickin' spot". It seemed to take forever to get to a small patch of shade in the distance. Every time I took a step, all I could see was BLUE! The berries were hanging from the bushes like little clumps of grapes. I simply couldn't pass by a single one. Dad took off until he was just out of earshot while Mom and I oohed and aahed for a good twenty minutes or so before we settled on one area and shifted into serious picking mode.
The area we were in was a few hundred acres along the eastern boundary of Hiawatha National Forest in mid-upper Michigan. It had been host to a huge forest fire ten years earlier. The only evidence of this seemed to be the blackened stumps and deadfall that lay beneath the knee-high ferns, surrounded by blueberry and huckleberry bushes, bushes that were bursting with sweet ripe fruit. Now, I'm not a biologist, but the way that I distinguish one from the other is by their color. To me, blueberries are the ones who's color is really a deep sky blue with just a bit of a white powdery film over their skins. The leaves on these plants seem to be a bit greener than those found on what I call the huckleberry bush. It's leaves have more of a purplish-red hue and it's berries are such a dark shade of purple that they look almost black in color. I never worried much about whether or not they differed in taste.............they all fell into the bucket at the same rate of speed and they all tasted just as heavenly baked up in a pie or right out of your hand.
So, where was everybody? There were berries for miles in every direction. All one had to do was pick them. All anybody had to do was pick them. It saddened me to think of our society as such an unadventurous, inopportunistic, lazy conglomeration of humans. Another one of those wacky waves of realization swept over me........We're out here all alone amidst thousands of berries and we don't have to fight the masses for them. So, that's good. But just think of all the children (and adults, for that matter) who have never tasted anything close to a wild huckleberry. Now that's sad!
I remembered last summer taking a tiny 2 1/2 year old little boy to his first cherry orchard. The look of astonishment on his face was enough to make me cry. He had hardly uttered a word in weeks but he never stopped begging for a second, "Up, Gwen, up. Put me up, Gwen. Put me up!" Within an hour both our arms were tired, his from picking, mine from lifting his cherry-stained little body up into the trees. I was so grateful for the cherries and for the joy they had brought this little person. What is it? What is this terrible thing that keeps us from enjoying the fruits of our labor? Why are we so willing to settle for the quick, easy, processed solutions? Why have we allowed ourselves to be pulled away from the very breast of Mother Earth, the sights and sounds and smells and textures that feed not just our bellies, but our souls as well?
These same thoughts came flooding back to me last weekend as I sat watching people socialize at a dear friend's wedding reception. Family and old friends were scattered throughout the crowd. The bride and I have been friends since Kindergarten, some 35 years ago. As I watched hands gently slapping backs and cheeks being kissed, it occurred to me that these beloved friends and family members were a lot like those berries I had been picking and wondering about. Had I appreciated or acknowledged them lately? In the last 2 years? In the last 5 years? Had any lack of appreciation or acknowledgement fed my soul or theirs? I doubt it.
I made a promise to myself that night not to just reap the harvest of Mother Earth, but to try harder to sow seeds of kindness and appreciation; to acknowledge others' work, their process, their struggles; to harvest the hearts of others with the same excitement, with the same reverence as I harvest those blueberries.....oops! and huckleberries, of course!
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