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a good time for berry picking

There is no perfect time to go berry picking. When I was a child I was the perfect height for getting those hard to reach lower limbs, heavy laden with beauties. And of course, the boundless energy. But I would eat more than I would gather. I would toddle home with a tummy ache, scratched up legs and an empty basket full of raspberry juice and tiny spiders. they would work their way up my arms and legs, leaving me with little red love bites and a night bathed in Calamine lotion.IMG_1325

When I was a teenager I was fast efficient and lean. But I would huff in boredom: missing my friends, missing my bike, missing my top ten hits on the radio. Wishing I was laying out on the beach in my bikini for a nice even tan, dreaming of a boy who could care less for me. Berry picking was for old ladies.

Now…oh…if I could turn back the time and be there again with my bucket and brown knees. To hear the chatter of my Grandma Bunny, Mom and Auntie Connie, as they plucked saskatoons in kerchiefs along the side of the road in their flannel shirts and blue jeans.

Now I am the one convincing my little girl that berry picking is fun. Somehow I remember it so. How is that? Because I remember the ladies I love and the pies. Yes. I am the Mom now with my own little girl sticking her fingers with thorns. I have the will for berries and the need, I hardly have the time, but I make it. And it’s sweet.

We are picking berries with Julie Lynn: a willowy whimsical natural beauty who carries fairy wings in the back of her car and has crystals in her kitchen. Nora says, “I feel bad, Mommy.”

“Why?”

“I feel bad for the ones we don’t pick in time and they drop to the ground all mushy.”

Julie Lynn gently says,

“Yes, but then they become part of the earth. Nothing is ever wasted.”

This whole cycle of life is a bit tough for me to take today, considering I have just been passed over for a woman who is half my age…

I spy an overripe berry proudly busting at the end of a branch. I whisper, “You’re still delicious to me” and pop her into my mouth with dignity.

Nora patters after Julie Lynn who is magical to her, and quite frankly, to me. Julie is tall and has a dancer body. She is wearing a sweet red skirt that wraps around her tiny little waist, her strawberry blonde curls sproing out from a casual pony and she is all smiles and all calm. She’s spiritually curious and deeply kind. She muses about her emerging career, where she will live, how she will love, what it is to turn thirty…all those questions one has when they are pink and starting to turn deep red. I remember “then”. It was delicious and it was dangerous and it was just as prone to birds and hail and smothering leaves.

As I head home with my buckets full of berries – my Auntie Connie calls me.

“Happy Birthday, my dear! How old are you now, Cia?”

“Well, I’m forty five Auntie Connie! Can you believe it?!”

“No! Goodness gracious. Well, you must be. Because I’m seventy. Can you believe THAT?!”

We laugh. No. She should be my age and I should be twenty. That’s the picture in our heads. The berries are always ripe and ready for the picking.

What is it that makes us so surprised by our mortality?

“Your Uncle Ed was out there today, picking saskatoons. Oh it’s such a good year for berries.”

“I know, the raspberries today were as big as pineapples. And the blueberries, so juicy!”

I drive home with a smile on my face picturing my Uncle Ed. His snow white head bending under the green to get at the good ones underneath. His big farmer hands, patient with the tender skinned fruit as he pops them off their prong and pings them into the pail. He is six. He is sixteen. He is thirty six. He is sixty eight. He is a prairie boy of all ages who loves a great piece of pie. He is the kind of guy who can be perfectly content right in the moment. I can see him stand for a moment to stretch his back and pop a few into his mouth and search out his cows in the field. He’s got one of those great sun weathered smiley salt of earth faces you have to trust. You know the kind. The crinkles in the corner of his eyes fan out like a leaf rake. Joy sorrow crop dust and love.

My raspberry pail rattles in the back of my car as we drive home. Nora has fallen asleep, curled up like a spotted fawn, all legs.IMG_1322

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