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Chris Hardie: Lessons from the blackberry patch

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Life is sometimes like a blackberry patch.

That was the great epiphany that came to me last week while I was in the midst of harvesting the purplish-black fruit of summer.

The annual appearance of the rubus allegheniensis — the blackberry — is a late July and early August treat. The prolific plants grow throughout our hardwood forests and we try our best to harvest plenty of the berries for eating fresh, making jam, freezing and making wine.

It was a cool evening last week when my wife Sherry and I — with ice cream pails in hand — started on a patch that covers both sides of a hilltop field. It was quiet and peaceful and were we serenaded by the chirping of a cricket and bird song.

We got a late start because I was late getting home from work. In typical fashion my mind was busy with all that had to be done and all that was not done. But I could feel the stress releasing with every berry that dropped into the bottom of the bucket. My mind emptied as the pail slowly filled.

Picking blackberries isn’t always easy. The briars are stout and sharp and often share space with nettles and thistles. Thick long sleeves are recommended.

I began to realize that blackberry patches are an allegory of life. The cautious will don thick clothing and gloves, slowly and carefully picking only the berries on the edge. They are content to gather a few berries but aren’t willing to risk stepping deeper into the patch. The harvest will be less and they will always be on the outside looking in.

The foolish will wear shorts and short-sleeves and act on impulse, plunging willy-nilly into the patch, not caring about where the best berries are. They might stomp down berries during the pursuit and will surely be scratched. The reward of the harvest and the risk of injury are equal.

The wise will dress appropriately, survey the patch and strategically work toward the middle of the patch, stomping down vines that don’t bear fruit to reach those that do. A few scratches are well worth the harvest of the bigger and juicier berries. The path through the patch can be a guide for others.

Our journey through life sometimes takes us through different phases. Sometimes we are cautious. Sometimes we are foolish — too often for me. But seldom do we arrive at wisdom without trying the other paths. And everyone’s journey is different.

Life would be so much easier if others would take the scratches and trample the briars for us. If only we could arrive at the prize without having to go through the pain, heartache and sorrow that come with the journey.

But it’s how we deal with the travails that makes us human. Scarred hearts grow new flesh. Broken souls slowly heal. The dirt of our imperfections is the seedbed of a new life. If we didn’t have briar patches in life the Garden of Eden would be awfully crowded.

Our pails were getting fuller as Sherry and I moved on to another patch that surrounds a wild apple tree. As we drew closer a deer looking for early windfall apples dashed away. A few raindrops fell from the gray sky. It was a light shower that moved on, not enough to deter us from our task.The sun came out for a final appearance just as it was starting to dip below the western horizon.

In this magical moment of twilight, I glanced at my berry picking companion. Next month will be anniversary number 36. If fortune favors the foolish then I am the wealthiest man alive. Lord knows I’ve tested her patience far too often and don’t tell her enough how special she is.

The woods fell silent as the shadows lengthened. Nightfall descended upon the valley. We had two nearly full pails of blackberries as we headed toward the house. I was at peace.

The berry patch had taught another lesson.


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