I’ve always been inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s timeless verse that celebrates the fingerprints of the Creator in creation.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
The artistic beauty and symmetrical precision of nature points to a Grand Designer. A glorious morning sunrise is call to worship. A breathtaking sunset inspires wonder. The impressive parade of tulips in the spring trumpet praise of God. And the colors of autumn trigger a sense of awe.
But I do have a bone to pick with Ms. Browning when it comes to picking blackberries. In my experience, there is something sacred about that end-of-summer ritual. It is a holy endeavor. For me the process of berry picking is nothing less than a parable of life.
The celebration of simplicity
Because blackberries grow rampant in our neighborhood, gathering the wild fruit has become an after-dinner activity on our long summer nights. I pick the succulent purple treasure and my wife bakes them into a pie.
This farm-to-table exercise in the middle of suburbia is an opportunity to “simply” get back-to-basics. Gathering food is a possibility without the need for running an engine or staffing a factory.
Returning to our ancestral roots (literally) is a reminder that our lives are linked to those who first populated this part of the country. It’s an invitation to remember that a life that matters demands decluttering and finding joy in what is simple. That value does not always have a price tag.
The importance of silence
While thrusting my arm into the thorny vines to reach for those plump (at times elusive) berries, I choose not listen to the Mariners, my playlist or a podcast. I am content to enjoy the sounds of silence.
The quiet of the early morning or early evening is a welcomed “interruption” in an otherwise noisy distracting day.
Being alone with nature (and myself) provides the atmosphere to reboot my internal computer and sense God’s presence. A meaningful life demands we unplug and “play.” Even if our definition of play was once considered work.
What’s important is making time to be quiet and getting away from the crowd.
The importance of patience
After years of harvesting wild blackberries, I’ve learned to recognize which ones are past their prime (I generally pick and eat those) and which ones are pie-worthy.
It’s also interesting to see how many are not quite ready.
What is even more amazing to me is how many berries ripen within a 24-hour period. Often I’ll return to my favorite patch within a day or two of my last berry hunt and find a whole new crop from which to choose.
Sixty-seven years of living have convinced me that patience is a virtue. What we long for can’t be achieved in the short term. Goals and dreams take time. Learning to wait is a key to success.
The reward of persistence
There is nothing quite like a warm slice of freshly baked blackberry pie with a scoop of ice cream. To this man of the cloth, what I’ve just described is heaven on a plate. It’s divine!
But it didn’t just appear out of nowhere. It took effort and it took time. It also took a partnership. There would be nothing on my plate if my wife Wendy wasn’t willing to take what I’d gathered and complete the task.
In life — and in berry picking— that for which you are working is what keeps you going. Visualizing the end result is what motivates the effort. And working together as a team is the ice cream on the pie.
As my Swedish friends like to say, “A shared joy is a doubled joy!”
Yes, Ms. Browning, there is something sacred about picking blackberries after all.
Greg Asimakoupoulos is a Wenatchee native living on Mercer Island, where he is the Faith/Values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter.