Under a glistening coat of rain, the blackberry waves tantalizingly.
"Here I am!" It seems to call. "Come get me!"
Everything in the waist-deep thicket was glazed with rainwater, leaving wet smudges on my jeans as I wade ever deeper into the underbrush. The wind-driven drizzle plasters the ends of my hair against my face, excess water streaming down my cheek and neck to soak the collar of my t-shirt. The muddy ground slippery and soft, makes for treacherous footing at times.
I don't mind. The berries are large and abundant; free for the taking. Other than the rain, the picking is easy. There are no poisonous snakes or spiders to worry about; no spider webs to speak of either. No chiggers or swarms of mosquitoes. Just the rain and the wind, punctuated with sporadic birdsong.
I feel distinctly lucky to be crawling around on these slopes, foraging for berries destined to be jelly. It takes a lot of fruit to make jelly, since only the juice is used. Jams and preserves are simple and straightforward; dump the fruit into a pot, add lots and lots and lots of sugar, cook it down, pour into jars, and screw the lid on. Jelly is the more refined cousin of preserves; there are more steps involved, the flesh of the fruit is discarded, and in most cases, you must add pectin. But the final result is a gleaming jar of clear, bright goodness.
Wild blackberries on our farm grow at the edge of the pasture, and in the orchard under the old apple trees. Some are round and fat, some are tiny and tough, while still others are long and conical. Sometimes known as "blackcaps", they ripen from the tip to the stem end, as though wee forest folk dip the ends into stain each night until the entire berry is black as tar.
It is said that if hunting was easy, we'd call it shopping. That's true for berries and plants as well as for game meat. Once I think I've picked all the ripe berries- sure I've gathered the last- I look at the patch from a different angle- and find more. It's clear how fairytale children are so easily lured into the dark forest, chasing one beautiful berry after the next.
Slowly the rain eases, and stops. Clouds break and scuttle across the windy sky. Under the branches of the old apple trees, I stop picking to admire the show. Shafts of sunlight hit the canopy of branches and shatter into countless dapples of gold and yellow. Freshly fallen rain becomes incandescent, sparking and gleaming from leaves, seed heads and petals. It's a fleeting display. A large, steel gray cloud slides between sun and orchard, breaking the spell. Smiling to myself, I continue harvesting.
It's quiet in the grove of old trees. Tall grasses and branches are rustled by a lively breeze; the resulting patter of rainwater rippling the air as the damp is shaken off.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the roar of silence made me uncomfortable. At home, the TV was on for what I called, "background noise". While driving, CDs or radio blared from car speakers. When working outside, a set of earphones kept me company with music or audio books. Recently, however, I've found myself pursuing the quiet of simple tasks. Not just romping through the woods, but peeling vegetables or snapping beans at home, crickets chirping softly outside the open windows; wind snapping the white cotton curtains as it blows through the house.
I hang my berry basket from a low branch on a nearby apple tree and unzip my raincoat. As heat from the emerging sun pushes damp warmth up from the soaking soil, I putter around the hillside, blindly seeking footholds in the chest-high vegetation. Unable to see where I'm going, I topple into the creek bed and land on my rump in the mud, holding the basket high so no precious berries tumble out. Wet creek mud soaks into the seat of my jeans. Damage done, I embrace my situation, and remain still for a moment, looking up at the sky, and listening to the soft songs of the birds who make the orchard home. It's so peaceful.
Making my way out of the mud, I whistle for the dogs. The ensuing crash of underbrush told me they were on their way. Hooking the basket over my elbow, I climb onto my 4-cycle pony and rumble down the hill, content with my harvest, already planning the rest of the day.
The front of my soggy Life Is Good t-shirt reads "Lucky Lass". It's true. I am one Lucky Lass.